TEHRAN // Iran's hardliners are not backing down from their efforts to oust reformist the former president Mohammad Khatami from the country's political arena and disqualify pro-reform candidates in the next parliamentary elections.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the chairman of the country's powerful constitutional watchdog called the Guardian Council that screens candidates, intensified the pressure in his Friday sermon in Tehran.
"The leaders of sedition should be gone forever and they will go, but some of them have not yet understood this and set out conditions for their return [to the political arena]," Ayatollah Jannati said.
"They should be held to account for what they have done," he said.
The senior cleric's reference to "those who set out conditions" was a thinly veiled reference to Mr Khatami who charted reformists' minimum demands for participation in parliamentary elections, expected early next year, when he met members of the parliament's reformist minority last week.
Mr Khatami listed the release of political prisoners, freedom for activity of all political parties and groups, commitment to the constitution and holding free and fair elections as the minimum conditions.
"If these conditions are met, we will see how to proceed; however it seems that the situation will become even more difficult in the future and everything will become more closed and restrictions more widespread," Mr Khatami said at the time.
So far, authorities have stopped short of trying to jail the reform movement's top leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have been the real victor in the election, fellow candidate Mahdi Karroubi, and Mr Khatami, apparently out of concern that it could spark a new wave of protests and fuel the opposition.
Reformists won only about one sixth of the seats in the parliamentary elections of 2008, when more than 200 reformist candidates from around the country were disqualified by the Guardian Council.
Some analysts believe that by Mr Khatami's decision to announce the election parameters for reformists, rather than an outright boycott, he has made an overture for reconciliation aimed at the more moderate among the country's conservatives. Many conservatives, who see themselves in danger of losing power in the wake of the hardline movement, could be willing to form an agreement with the less radical reformists as a way to improve their political chances. A political analyst in Tehran, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said there is little possibility that Mr Khatami's demands will be met by the regime.
"Hardliners have proved to be unbending. They show no inclination to share power with anyone. They just want to consolidate and expand the power that they wield now," he said. "The proposition made by Khatami therefore should be taken as symbolic, a lesson in democracy, Khatami-style."
But some hardliners are demanding that the former reformist president and the legislators who met with him last week be held accountable for supporting the opposition.
Yadollah Javani, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander and head of the Guards' political bureau, told Fars News Agency on Friday: "Those who met [Mr Khatami] must explain their views about last year's sedition and the purpose of their meeting with a leader of sedition."
The hardliners, and some conservatives, continually demand that reformists should be prosecuted for refusing to accept the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency.
Opposition leaders say they are committed to the Islamic Republic but against Mr Ahmadinejad. They claim that the June 2009 presidential elections were spoiled by fraud and Mr Mousavi was the real winner.
After the election, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support of Mr Mousavi, and some powerful clerics sided with the opposition. The wave of protests was the biggest challenge faced by Iran's clerical leadership since it came to power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
* With additional reporting from Associated Press