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memri
January 11, 2001 No.
173

The Dwindling Authority of Iran's President

Reports from Iran in recent months indicate the dwindling authority of Iranian President Khatami. An important example is his ability to institute Constitutional reform. In several public speeches in late November and early December, Khatami called for sufficient authority to execute his duties. But shortly after making these statements and encouraging his supporters to debate this issue, he backtracked - affirming those critics who claimed that he lacked both the power and the will to counter the conservatives who dominate the establishment. Following are excerpts from two of his speeches showing both his drive for reform, and his retreat from it:

Seeking the Authority to Enforce the Constitution

On December 1, 2000, President Khatami made a statement in the Iranian Parliament asking for the authority to implement the Iranian Constitution: "I declare that after three and a half years as president I still lack sufficient power to truly implement the Constitution, the task that is my principal responsibility. The fact is that the president is neither in a position to assure implementation of the Constitution nor to prevent its violation. We need to carry out decisive structural reforms and eliminate ambiguities, in order for the president to be able to act with full authority and be supported by the law. We are in the initial phase of implementing Islamic democracy in Iran after years of autocracy. This democracy, therefore, remains fragile and tense. But we can avoid tension simply by respecting the Constitution. We must learn to accept that the last word lies with the Constitution. Failure to implement the Constitution weakens democracy and threatens to stir up tension. There must be sufficient guarantees that an accused will not be treated unjustly before such power. At the beginning the lawmakers anticipated this, but now it has unfortunately become a derelict section of the Constitution."[1]

Backtracking on Reform

Only two weeks later, Khatami backtracked, making the following statement in a speech at a teachers' training college in Tehran on Students' Day: "The Constitution is our point of convergence and at this time there can be no question of amendments. I am in charge of implementing the Constitution and I ought to have all the means required to carry out my duty. Some ordinary statutes and regulations may be changed to give the president the authority needed to implement the Constitution. Today, any talk of amending the Constitution is a betrayal of the people and the Islamic Republic."[2]


[1] Keyhan (Iran: London Edition), December 1, 2000, p. 1.

[2] Keyhan (Iran: London Edition), December 14, 2000, p. 4.