Iranian reformists held their first public meeting since June 2009 on Thursday to press their political comeback and wrest back control of the conservative-dominated parliament in next year’s polls.
The conservative establishment had cracked down hard on reformists following the disputed June 2009 re-election of hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Reformists contested the vote and many of their leaders were arrested and jailed, including two presidential candidates and opposition leaders Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi who have been under house arrest since 2011.
The following year most of the reformists boycotted the polls in protest against the arrests.
The 2013 election victory of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who pledged greater political and cultural openness, marked the return of reformists to mainstream politics.
Former moderate president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his successor Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, helped Rouhani to secure victory by obtaining the withdrawal of reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref.
Thursday’s meeting was organised by the council for coordinating the reformist front, a coalition of some 20 parties, and brought together about 200 delegates to chart the movement’s future course of action.
“Our objective must be to wrest the majority in parliament. We have no other choice. We must set aside differences that threaten to weaken us,” Aref told the gathering.
Rafsanjani and Khatami did not attend the meeting, instead sending messages of support calling on moderate parties and reformist groups to close ranks ahead of the March 2016 legislative polls.
“I salute the meeting of reformist and moderate parties… who are the true heirs of the thought of imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini,” Rafsanjani said in his message, in reference to the late founder of the Islamic republic.
He urged delegates to defend “the rights of the nation, including those of the various ethnic and religious (groups) and of women” and stressed the “will and choice of the people must be respected”.
Khatami’s message also stressed the need “for unity of all those who claim they belong to the reformist movement and who accept the principles of the regime of the Islamic republic”.
Aref hailed Khatami as “the leader of the reformist movement” and also voiced regret that nearly four years later main opposition leaders Mousavi and Karoubi are still under house arrest.
Rouhani’s administration favours freeing the two opposition leaders, but the executive branch is unable to take such a decision, according to several government members.