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CNN Today

Will Friday's Iranian Elections be Voting for Change?

Aired February 17, 2000 - 2:36 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Voters in Iran will be choosing a new parliament tomorrow.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports the election is widely viewed as a referendum on reform.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a political rally that looks more like a pop concert. A former Revolutionary Guard sings love songs and the huge crowd moves to the music. These are rare pleasure in Islamic Iran.

This is a campaign appearance for Mohammad Reza Khatami, younger brother of the president. He leads the main reform party that promises more social and political freedoms for Iranians.

But as in all Iranian elections, the United States is an absent player. Reformists say they would pursue better ties.

MOHAMMAD REZA KHATAMI, REFORM CANDIDATE (through translator): Most certainly this process would gain speed after the elections, but it's a reciprocal matter and depends on what the U.S. does.

AMANPOUR: The conservative camp remains adamantly opposed.

SHAHABEDIN SADR, CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE (through translator): Ad long as this government and this system exists, there will be no change with our relationships with the U.S.

AMANPOUR: But things are changing, this election year. For instance, a record number of women are running, determined to achieve political and legal equality with men, determined, like this candidate, to be seen and herd. One prominent woman dares to pose in red shoes and declares the body-covering chadal (ph) should be optional. Even though Islamic hard-liners oppose President Khatami's reforms, a U.S.-based human rights group says these elections are Iran's fairest yet.

(on camera): But these elections aren't fully Democratic because of an un-elected body called the Guardian Council. Made up of religious conservatives, it's designed to check the Islamic credentials of every candidate. This year, they vetoed nearly 600 candidates, almost all of them from the reformist camp. (voice-over): Reformers are confident of victory, though, and in the one week allotted for campaigning, they've mobilized the vote.

Conservatives are adopting some of the reformist slogans. They're banners too proclaim freedom, abandoning Islamic battle cries of previous elections and fielding far fewer clerics. Could the conservatives finally be sensing the country's mood? Some analysts think so.

PROF. HADI SEMATI, TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: The more we go along in pursuit of process, it seems to me that there is less of a willingness on the part of the conservative camp to stop it and less of a capability.

AMANPOUR: Tired of the deep divisions fostered for two decades by Islamic hard-liners, perhaps reformers have best captured today's mood with their simple patriotic message: Iran for all Iranians.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Teheran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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