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Khatami rejects reform setback, calls for probe into low turnout

Tehran, March 5, IRNA -- President Mohammad Khatami here Wednesday rejected claims of setback for his reform agenda following municipal elections last Friday and called for a probe to determine the causes of a low electorate turnout, especially in large cities.

Only 20 million out of the 41 million eligible electorate, cast their ballots in the second village and city council elections, which marked the first lackluster showing since Khatami came into power in 1997 on a mandate to boost democracy and establish a civil society.

Most of the ticket holders belonging to political groups with pro-Khatami leaning trailed in some provinces, including in Tehran where only less than 25 percent of the over seven-million electorate cast their ballots.

"Political development belongs to all (the nation) and has not failed at all. Some of the (political) wings have possibly suffered blows because of their unwise performance, but I am confident that the people are committed to the (reform) objectives," Khatami said.

The president also presented an upbeat assessment of the electorate participation in general and said, "The participation throughout the country has been good, but we should investigate the causes of low turnout in bigger cities" and take measures to prevent such occurrence in the future.

"Analysts must study the low public participation in bigger cities, especially in Tehran," Khatami said, adding people's votes, however, must be respected.

The president further brushed aside allegations that he had backed certain political groups after the elections. "I have not defended any party and I always defend the people," he said when asked to comment on the allegations.

On Monday, he said, "People become disillusioned when they get the impression that the policies of the leaders they have voted to office do not correspond with their expectations and they end up turning their backs on the whole system."

Khatami has earlier complained that he lacks the necessary prerogative to fulfill his pledge of upholding the Constitution. His twin bills, including one to enable him to warn and mete out punishment when his demands are not heeded, have been held back by opponent accusations that they could set the stage for dictatorship.

The president also reiterated his Monday remarks that some people tried to portray a terrible picture of the country's situation and fan out hatred. However, he added, "My statements were not intended against a certain group."

He pointed out, "Unfortunately, we are trying to raise negative sides of certain issues in order to pick up faults with our opponent. Thus, the public opinion thinks that the whole state of affairs is dark."

The president added, "The existing atmosphere and our lack of capacity to accept a democratic society helps develop such a picture, prompting our enemies to think that the system is inefficient, and the people become gradually disenchanted."

Asked about not attending an extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Doha on Wednesday, the president said Iran thought it was not proper to hold another session shortly after the OIC session in Kuala Lumpur.

"Meanwhile, we should have known the agenda of the Doha session, but I did not know what the agenda of the session was," Khatami added.

The 57-nation organization met on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Malaysia on President Khatami's proposal.

The Iranian president also described Arab countries' stances on regional developments during a recent meeting of the Arab League in Cairo as 'wise and good'.

... Payvand News - 3/6/03 ... --

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