Constitutional Dispute Stalls Iran President's Inauguration

From Times Wire Reports

Citing constitutional concerns, Iran's supreme leader on Saturday indefinitely postponed the swearing-in ceremony of reformist President Mohammad Khatami--a day before it was due to take place.

Khatami's presidency was renewed Thursday, when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei confirmed him for a second, four-year term. But the postponement of his swearing-in by parliament will delay Khatami's appointment of a new Cabinet, which had been expected today.

In a statement carried by state-run media, Khamenei said a dispute between hard-liners and reformists over membership of the powerful Guardian Council was behind his decision to put off today's ceremony. The statement did not say how long the delay would be.

The reformist-packed Majlis, or parliament, had failed to approve candidates to fill all three vacant seats on the 12-member Guardian Council, an unelected body that must approve all bills before they become law.

Under Iran's Constitution, the swearing-in ceremony should take place in the presence of council members. However, the constitution does not say whether all members should be present.

Earlier Saturday, parliament chose only one of six candidates nominated by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the judiciary chief, for the three vacant council seats.

The rest were rejected for being politically biased or legally inexperienced.

In a last-minute move, Shahroudi presented two new names, but both were again rejected in an extraordinary session of parliament Saturday evening.

Conservatives, bitterly opposed to Khatami's liberal reforms, have argued that all Guardian Council members must be present at the inauguration of a president.

Reformers see that argument as a tactic to pressure parliament to endorse the nominees, all of whom are seen as conservatives.

The reformist parliament has been dealt setbacks by the conservative Guardian Council, which has vetoed the assembly's more progressive rulings, and the lawmakers see the elections as an opportunity to regain influence.

Reformists in government have been struggling with hard-liners, who hold immense power through unelected institutions such as the council, the police, military, judiciary and state-run media.

Khatami is Iran's fifth president in the eight elections held since the 1979 revolution. As was the case in his first presidential election in 1997, Khatami was reelected June 8 in a landslide.

Khatami has promised to use his popular mandate to press on with efforts to establish a freer, more open Iran.

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