TOPICS > Politics

Winds of Change: Parliamentary Elections in Iran

February 17, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


LINDSEY HILSUM, ITN: Bicycles– that’s one of the issues for Iranian women in Friday’s elections. They’re not allowed to cycle in public in case the wind wraps their clothes around them, revealing the contours of their bodies. Then there’s the question of initiating divorce: Men can, and women can’t. Women expect female candidates to raise women’s issues, says this campaigner, because these were ignored before. Fariba Pajooh is an architecture student. She’s 20 and has joined the campaign team for one of the reformist parties. The 1979 revolution was spearheaded by young people, and so are today’s politics of change.

FARIBA PAJOOH, Reformist Campaigner: (speaking through interpreter) I’m not giving you slogans. I want an Iran without discrimination against any group or person. Everybody should have the freedom to talk without fear of being imprisoned.

LINDSEY HILSUM: On the streets, the slogans have it. While conservative candidates trumpet the values of pure Islamic ideals, reformers– aware that 70% of Iranians are under 30, and even 16-year-olds have the vote– are wooing the youth. Live on TV last night, 500 couples marry. In revolutionary Iran, boys and girls aren’t allowed to socialize together. Many want to marry young, but they can’t afford it. This mass wedding brings down the cost, and they even let the young man and woman sit together. Then comes the politics. President Khatami, the reformer’s hero, blesses the wedding, giving traditional gold coins, and a boost to the reformist campaign. But don’t think that all young Iranians are alike. These are the Basiij. It means “those who are mobilized” — boys, yes, and even some girls who say all they want is to martyr themselves for Islam. They’re led by the national karate coach. It was the brothers of working class boys like these who lost their lives in the war against Iraq. They’re now a street army for conservative clerics trying to hang onto power. One young man organizes a street exhibition commemorating 21 years of the revolution. For him, reform is just a cover for corrupting western values.

MEHDI POORSAYAH, Conservative Campaigner: (speaking through interpreter) We want a free Islamic Iran, solid and firm. We’re the ones following the aims of the revolution, and our leader, Ayatollah Kohmenei.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Banners and slogans. 38 million Iranians meet on Friday and they know this election is important. The reformers hope they can tip the balance of Iranian politics, so the previously conservative dominated parliament will stop blocking and start promoting President Khatami’s progressive program. The conservatives fear their power will slip away.

DR. HASSAN GHAFOURYFARD, Conservative Candidate: We have a special way of life, a special class of thinking, a very important ideology, which is a religious ideology which we have been sacrificing for, for the last 20 years, and we have done so much to make sure it is implemented in the country.

LINDSEY HILSUM: At a pro-reform rally in Tehran yesterday, teenagers clapped and swayed, not allowed. The conservatives blame western influence, Iran’s opening up. Britain recently reopened its embassy, and there are increasing numbers of cultural and educational exchanges with the great Satan– America– something the reformers applaud.

AHMAD BOURGHANI, Reformist Candidate: (speaking through interpreter) My idea and the idea of all reformists is that we should completely remove the tension, and correct the distorted relationship Iran has with other countries.

LINDSEY HILSUM: 30 million Iranians have been born since Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution. Those who want change are not fighting for a new, secular revolution, but many want to break the absolute power of the clergy. Friday’s parliamentary elections are their chance.