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Khatami Inauguration Postponed - 2001-08-05

The official swearing-in of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to a second four-year term of office has been postponed. The postponement is seen as part of the ongoing power struggle between reformers and hardline conservatives.

A day before President Khatami was to be sworn in before Parliament, Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, demanded the ceremony be postponed.

Mr. Khameini said he called for the delay because the reformist-controlled Parliament had refused to approve all candidates to vacancies on the Guardian Council.

The 12-member council is a powerful non-elected body that approves laws passed by Parliament and supervises elections. Council members are supposed to be present at presidential inaugurations. Some of its members are appointed by Ayatollah Khameini, and some are selected by Parliament from a list put forward by the judiciary.

Parliament rejected some of the candidates put forward, saying they were politically biased or legally inexperienced.

President Khatami won a landslide victory in national elections June 8, and with it a resounding mandate to move ahead with political reforms and liberalization. Despite that mandate, and although Parliament is controlled by like-minded reformers, the president still faces a powerful conservative religious establishment that controls the judiciary, the security services, state-run mass media and the Guardian Council.

During his first term of office, many of the president's reform plans were blocked by the Guardian Council, pro-reform dissidents were jailed and independent newspapers were shut down. The challenge for President Khatami is to find a way to respond to voter demands for greater reform, without antagonizing the conservatives. President Khatami's election to a second term was confirmed by Ayatollah Khameini last Thursday. But, he cannot present his new Cabinet until he is sworn by before Parliament.

Heated debate over the inauguration delay erupted in Parliament Sunday, and the speaker of Parliament said he hopes the crisis can be resolved to allow President Khatami to be sworn in by Tuesday.