Friday, May 20, 2005

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri speaks on the forthcoming presidential elections in Iran

Dissident cleric rails against Iran's system
By Paul Holmes and Barry Moody (Reuters)

Iran's Islamic system has been abused to deny the president real power, sapping public interest in next month's election, the country's top dissident cleric says. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, an architect of the Islamic revolution, told Reuters Iranians would not vote in large numbers on June 17 because real authority lay not with the president but with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Some figures have power, while responsibilities have been given to the president," Montazeri, one of the authors of Iran's constitution, said on Thursday at his office in the holy city of Qom, a center of Shi'ite Muslim learning. "That is why young Iranians do not want to cast their votes. That is why I have remained silent about this election," he said, adding that the constitution had been misused by people who wielded Islam "as a tool to put pressure on people."

Opinion polls have predicted a low turnout in the presidential election. Montazeri, a frail but mentally sharp 83-year-old, called the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. embassy in 1979 a mistake and said Tehran should now resume ties with Washington.

Image from Daily Times, Pakistan

He also said the United States had done well to topple Saddam Hussein, but should get out of Iraq for its own good. "Some people criticize America, saying they invaded Iraq in search of an atomic bomb while there was no bomb.

"I say that Saddam himself was more dangerous than 1,000 atomic bombs. It was a great job, but they should let Iraqis enjoy their freedom," Montazeri said. Asked whether Iraq's new Shi'ite-led government could quell a raging insurgency on its own, he said: "The presence of Americans in Iraq causes the insurgency. If they leave, then this thing will be finished."


Montazeri was hailed as "the fruit of my life" by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual father of the 1979 Islamic revolution, who designated him as his successor. He fell from grace in 1988 after criticising Iran's rulers and was kept under house arrest in Qom from 1998 until 2003.

Montazeri helped develop the political system in Iran, which is based on a theory called the "rule of the jurisprudent" that says clerics should directly supervise political life. He said the constitution he helped to write had not only been misused but also was flawed -- a mistake he put down to inexperience.

He said it should be changed to give the president control over state matters, including the military, the police and official media. "There is a contradiction in our constitution. It gives a lot of responsibilities to the president without giving him enough authority," Montazeri said.

"Responsibility and authority should come together. You cannot give responsibility to someone (the president) without giving him authority." He said Iran's Supreme Leader should limit his role to religious matters and to ensuring that laws conformed to Islam.


Montazeri said he had an important message for the United States -- that it had lost popularity in the Middle East by seeking to impose democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. "You cannot impose democracy on Islamic countries. You should help people to develop their country and decide their own fate," he said.

Montazeri was among leaders who endorsed the 444-day occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, when radical Islamic students held 52 hostages. The event led Washington to break diplomatic ties, which Montazeri said should now be restored. "What Americans are doing in the region is against their own interests. One of the mistakes was occupying Iraq. One of our mistakes was occupying the American embassy," he said.

"Our Prophet says all human beings make mistakes but the wise learn from their mistakes."

(Additional reporting by Paul Hughes and Parisa Hafezi)


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