Iran’s moderate President Mohammad Khatami said on Sunday he did not want power at any cost, but would stand for re-election in June polls if he thought he could make further progress toward reform.
The mild-mannered Shiite Muslim cleric has seen the reforms of his first years in power all but overturned in a conservative backlash. New laws have been vetoed by the conservative-dominated constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council.
“I will explicitly say that I am not attracted to holding any position or power, but no pressure is able to dissuade me of my beliefs,” he told parliament in a keynote speech.
Khatami’s reformist allies in parliament are now preparing a bill to strengthen the powers of the president.
“I will stay as long as I know I can take steps forward and as long as the people want me and remain loyal to the votes they cast,” he said.
Though his popularity has waned over the last year, Khatami would beat all-comers in June, if he stands. For the reform-hungry, overwhelmingly youthful population of Iran, there is currently no alternative.
The resurgent right now realizes that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the courts and the Guardian Council, can block any reform that goes too far.
A recent poll by the official IRNA news agency showed 64 percent of people would vote for Khatami, but 79 percent want him to run for re-election. If he refuses, radical candidates from both camps could further widen the political divide.
A Guardian Council veto of reformist candidates could lead to a low poll turnout, or at worst a boycott, bringing the very legitimacy of the administration into doubt.
Khatami said the people’s desire and need for change had brought him to office.
There were two groups that were against the reform movement, he said, those who oppose change at any cost, and those trying to steer the desire for change into a movement to overturn the Islamic Republic.
“If we ignore such a need for change we will steer society towards a path that has a sorrowful and regrettable end,” he said.
“But if we accept the need for change and prepare the grounds within the system, both revolution and society will develop.”