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Thursday, August 09, 2001, updated at 09:06(GMT+8)

Khatami Vows to Establish Religious Democracy in Iran

Delayed for three chaotic days, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was finally sworn in on Wednesday in Iran's Majlis (parliament), kicking off his second and final four-year tenure in office.

Looking mild yet assured as usual, the reformist president took oath before the Islamic holy book, the Koran, as well as Iran's top officials and members of parliament, pledging to "guard the official religion, the Islamic republic and the Constitution."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who confirmed Khatami's second presidential mandate last Thursday, was conspicuously absent in the Majlis hall.

During his 40-minute speech, punctuated with warm applause, Khatami vowed to establish "religious democracy" in the Islamic republic and make greater strides towards the blossom in political, economic, social and cultural arenas.

The moderate president was re-elected in a landslide victory in the June 8 presidential election. According to the Constitution, the president-elect should be sworn in at the parliament before taking office.

During the oath-taking ceremony broadcast live by state media, Khatami pointed out that religious democracy would help the society to remain immune from any damage.

The president said that he will remain honest to people and to the nation, adding he "will try not to be pressured to defend the basic rights of the people, legitimate freedoms, liberal press as well as civil institutions."

In his speech, Khatami briefed the audience on his major achievements during his first term, saying he owes the success to those who stood by him, especially those who have paid price for carrying out his reform agendas.

"I will try to lean on logic and dialog, and avoid violence," promised the president, "I will pay more attention to people's demands."

Khatami's belated investiture came following the end of a row between the reformist-majority Majlis and the conservative judiciary over the election of members of the Guardian Council (GC), the constitutional watchdog body.

On Tuesday, the Majlis approved by a "relative majority" two candidates to the GC to end the political stalemate, paving the way for Khatami's inauguration ceremony, originally scheduled on Sunday.

The president-elect came along a bumpy way to the Majlis, which failed to see eye to eye with the judiciary on the representation on the hardliner-dominated GC, for his swearing-in ceremony.

The 12-member GC is a powerful body being charged with duty of overseeing the acts of the Majlis to comply with Islamic tenets and the constitutional laws.

The council comprises six jurists appointed by the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alongside six lawyers elected by parliament, which decides on half of the council's positions every three years -- from a list prepared by the judiciary.

On Saturday, the Majlis approved only one of the candidates introduced by the judiciary for three vacant GC seats and twice rejected all other candidates for the other two seats.

Reformist lawmakers, who have been squaring off against the conservative GC for barring their candidates in various elections and blocking most of the progressive laws they passed over the past several months, said that the candidates were "too political."

As a result, Khamenei ordered the Majlis to postpone Khatami's inauguration and the arbitrative Expediency Council (EC) to find a solution to the dispute.

The EC, headed by former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, ruled that the two vacant GC seats should be filled by the judiciary- named candidates who bag an absolute majority in the first round voting, or, if not, by whoever gain the relative majority in the second round voting.

Until the GC deputies were "unconvincingly" elected, or rather selected, Iran was in political limbo with Khatami, the number two person in the country, helplessly being blocked from taking his oath and forming a new cabinet.

The dispute is seen as an example of the power struggle between conservatives and reformists, who have over the past years found themselves being cuffed and paid prices for their inch-by-inch reform movement.

Observers here say, however, the real concern for Khatami might not be breaking the fresh constitutional deadlock, but forming a cabinet with higher efficiency to push forward his reform agenda in the days ahead.

Khatami to Form New Government Next Week

Khatami said that he will form his new government next week. Speaking on the day taking oath in the Majlis (parliament)to start his second and final four-year tenure in office, Khatami said that he will select members of his cabinet on the basis of meritocracy and announce them to the Majlis for a vote of confidence.

On the June 8 presidential election, 57-year-old reformist Khatami garnered over 21 million votes, or 77 percent of the total, getting renewed mandate from the people to make the Islamic republic an even more open civil society.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, the reformist president said he will "step into the scene with more insight powered with four years of successful experience," the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Commenting on possible reshuffle in his cabinet, Khatami said this will keep the media informed in the next five or six days.

Attaching great importance to people's role in his reform agenda, Khatami said ground should be prepared to ensure a safe atmosphere for people's free and political activities.

He added that the government should ease its monopoly and privatize economic activities.

Commenting on the row between the reformist-majority Majlis and the conservative judiciary over the election of members of the oversight Guardian Council (GC), Khatami said that he believed there existed no tension and the issue could be solved through dialogue and mutual understanding.

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Delayed for three chaotic days, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was finally sworn in on Wednesday in Iran's Majlis (parliament), kicking off his second and final four-year tenure in office.

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