Only 35 percent voted for Ahmadinejad

An Iranian journalist told me that the government is in Tehran but the real power is in Qom. Is that true? In the name of all-merciful God, that is wrong because I am one of the people in Qom and my statements are not published in the press, nor are they broadcast on radio or television. I don’t know the purpose behind that myth. Perhaps someone wants to find an excuse for the government’s mistakes, or perhaps is seeking to undermine its policies. Naturally there are religious leaders who on occasion have held political posts. But the work of Qom is its religious seminars and its foundation is its independence from the government. You were appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to the Guardian Council and then became chief prosecutor, but you resigned from both posts. What were your reasons? I found that I could not work in a way I thought was appropriate within the framework laid down by the system of judicial power. Looking back, I see that many of the things that are wrong today had their seed in that period. So I decided to resign; I considered it a responsible act. At first, the imam Khomeini would not accept my resignation, but after three months he was persuaded to do so. Your objections were over the two most powerful non-elected institutions in the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council. During the time of imam Khomeini, the leader operated on the basis of the constitution. Nevertheless, there are different interpretations of the role of the leader. Some believe that he is above the masses. I do not know if this interpretation prevails today in practice. My view is that the leader cannot act independently and above the will of society as a whole, of the masses. However, the Guardian Council assumed the authority to ratify or reject candidates in the parliamentary elections. That caused the people to lose trust in the government and in politics. In my view, actions such as bypassing the institutions distort the meaning of the constitution. How do you explain the fact that it was the same people who in 1997 gave an overwhelming majority to Khatami, who held a platform of liberal reform, but just a few months ago voted in the ultra-conservative Ahmadinejad? This is not a matter of votes moving from one camp to another. Of the 17 million votes for Ahmadinejad in the second round, it is doubtful if 2 or even 3 million came from those who had voted for Khatami. What decided the result was the fact that a large sector of the electorate stayed away. In reality, Ahmadinejad was voted in by the second round (Ed. note: He had received 19.5 percent in the first round) by just 35 percent of those who had the vote. What is your evaluation of Khatami’s two presidential terms? I don’t think it is very useful to dig up the past; what is important is what is happening from here on. In brief, I would say that Khatami could have carried out far more reforms than he did. He had enormous support from the people and he did not use it. Do you believe that Khatami’s reforms, such as they were, are now under threat from the current government? The work based on the thought of the imam Khomeini is continually being questioned. The point is that all the presidents we have had have mainly worked to benefit their own position, and not for the freedom and prosperity of the people. No doubt Khatami made a beginning, but he did not ensure that the necessary infrastructure was set up to benefit the forces of freedom. You spoke about Khatami’s reformist platform, but in practice he did not really change things. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that he didn’t try but I think that he could have been more effective. He could have left a body of work behind him that would have ensured that the reins would be passed to (Hashemi) Rafsanjani, (Mehdi) Karoubi or even Mustafa Moin, the candidate of the liberal intellectuals. Yesterday an Iranian newspaper headlined your statement that «women also have the right to be elected to the highest political office.» I wonder, if that is so, why shouldn’t they have the right to choose not to wear a headscarf? I said that and I believe it. As for your question, of course women can choose what to wear. No one has imposed any uniform, Islamic dress code. However, with regard to the headscarf, this is a law of Parliament that expresses the people’s will and of course is in line with Islam. The people, through Parliament, have imposed certain restrictions, not allowing women to circulate uncovered or half-naked.