Muhammad Sahimi writes for Tehran Bureau:
On December 29, 2010, former President Mohammad Khatami met with the Reformist deputies of the Eighth Majlis (parliament). Led by Khatami's nephew Mohammad Reza Tabesh, a deputy from Ardestan, they form a minority group of about 55 deputies. Another 35 legislators are independent. Out of a total of 290 Majlis deputies, there are thus about 90 who are not associated with the conservative/hardline camp. The elections --- or, as it appears, the show of elections --- for the Ninth Majlis will be held in early 2012, about a year from now.
Speaking to the Reformist deputies, Khatami said,
Our demands in the past as well as the present are clear, and have been emphasized even in the aftermath of the recent [2009 presidential] election. [Favourable] conditions for broad participation of people [in the elections] and guaranteeing their rights must be provided. In addition, the elections must be held in such a way that there will be minimum hindrance of free voting by the people and maximum conditions for materializing their demands and ideals.
The minimum conditions for the Reformists' participation in the elections are the release of all the political prisoners, freedom for all political parties and groups and removal of all limitations [on their activity], commitment of all, particularly the officials, to the Constitution and the execution of all of its articles, especially its true spirit [meaning those articles that respect the rights of the people], and holding free and fair elections.
Concerning the fact that most of the Reformist candidates for the Eighth Majlis were barred from running by the Guardian Council, he proposed a question to the regime:
If the qualifications of all of our 290 candidates had been approved, would the Reformist group not be in the majority? If they do not have any base of support amongst people, why do you prevent them from being tested by people's vote?
Almost all of the best-known Reformist candidates, some of whom had served in the government for 25 years, were barred by the council. Out of the 290, only 105 mostly lesser-known known candidates were allowed to run. The election of 55 nonetheless represented a success rate of better than 52 percent.
Khatami remained realistic in his speech to the Reformist deputies. With regard to participation in the next elections, he said,
If such conditions are in place, then we can decide what course of action should be taken. But, given the present circumstances, it appears that the conditions will be worse in the future and the restrictions even tighter.
The meeting and Khatami's speech provoked a storm of heated debate, both within Iran and among the diaspora. Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the security forces, fired the first shots when it called the Reformist deputies "criminals" and "treacherous," and demanded that the Guardian Council preemptively disqualify them from running for the Ninth Majles.
Ahmad Jannati, the Guardian Council's ultra-reactionary secretary-general, said, "Today some are trying to set conditions to return to the political scene. But, who is going to accept their conditions? Who is going to vote for them, anyway?" Without referring to Khatami by name, Jannati added, "Those who go to the U.S. and are greeted with a red carpet, but at the same time [that same country] does not grant visa to our scientists, do not have any standing among our people."
Gholam-Hossein Elham, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline adviser for legal affairs, said that, "In next year's elections for the Majles we will have new seditions. The tools that were used for putting down last year's sedition should not be set aside. There are those that seek the revival of the seditionists, but because their methods in the past have been ineffective, they will use new methods and new faces." The hardliners refer to the Green Movement as sedition, and while Elham did not specify them, the "tools" of which he spoke were violence, thousands of arrests, torture in jail, murder of at least 110 people, show trials, and long jail sentences.....
It appears to me that those in the opposition who criticized Khatami did not read his entire speech. As pointed out earlier, he was realistic, saying that he expects the political environment only to deteriorate further and that the Reformists and the rest of the opposition will be put under even greater pressure. It is clear, in short, that he does not expect his conditions to be met.
Those who criticized Khatami also did not consider the reaction of the hardliners and its implications. None of the hardliners said, "The elections are free." None declared, "Political groups and parties are free to form and operate." And none claimed, "The Constitution is being completely implemented." They only attacked Khatami and those with whom he met. Why?
Because not only would none of these hypothetical statements have been true -- even the hardliners know it -- but the regime also recognizes that the Green Movement is popular. The hardliners are aware that the Green Movement has not only not gone away, it has grown in strength. They know only too well that the Green Movement is a fire under a layer of ash that will rise and rage again if it is provided with the slightest opportunity. They are terrified by any prospect, no matter how dim, of the Green Movement shedding its ashen blanket and returning to the streets, even peacefully.
If the regime and hardliners are really sure that the people have rejected the Green Movement and its leaders, would it not be wise for them to actually allow the leaders of the movement to be in contact with people and improve conditions to the extent that they can be persuaded to run in elections -- that is, instituting procedures to guarantee that the elections will be truly free and democratic -- so that people can reject them freely and democratically?