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Khatami Comeback?

Scott MacLeod thinks so:

Khatami said political freedom was more important than slogans about economic justice. In that vein, he sharply criticized the Guardian Council, the body that has routinely disqualified Iranian reformists from participating in elections and thereby tilted the outcome in favor of conservatives and hard-liners. "What right do some have to make decisions on behalf of the people and disqualify those trusted by the people on the grounds that their eligibility was not approved by six or 12 individuals?" Khatami asked.

Khatami, it seems, is out to change his reputation in Iran for being a well-meaning politician who lacks political courage. His remarks suggest he will take a leading role in mobilizing reformists against Ahmadinejad and his fellow hard-liners in parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

Although it has not coalesced into a formal alliance, there has been a lot of talk that Khatami will be part of a three-way anti-Ahmadinejad bloc that includes two other major figures, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, both of whom lost to Ahmadinejad in the last presidential contest.

There's no sign that Khatami will actually be a candidate for president once again in the 2009 election, but he would stand a good chance to defeat Ahmadinejad if he did run. Despite widespread disillusionment that he did not fulfill his promise as president, Khatami remains one of the country's most popular figures. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, he captured more than 20 million votes each time in the first and only rounds of voting. By contrast, Ahmadinejad won less than 6 million votes in the first round of the 2005 election, and 17 million in his victorious runoff. Since leaving the presidency, Khatami established the International Institute for Dialogue among Cultures and Civilizations.

Khatami would be a welcome change of pace in the eyes of the West, although it's debatable whether or not much would change regarding free press and speech. But it certainly couldn't hurt the economy, since Khatami has a better grasp on free trade and economics.

But as Khatami himself mentioned, unless the Guardians Council is eliminated, it will remain difficult to alter the system too dramatically.

2009 should be an interesting year for Iranian politics.

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