TEHRAN, Iran – Former president Mohammad Khatami has called for a nationwide referendum on the legitimacy of the government, just days after another ex-president criticized the government's response to Iran's disputed election.
Khatami said Iranians have lost faith in their political leaders after the election, according to reports posted Monday on several reformist Web sites.
The opposition charges that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 vote through mass fraud.
"Durability of order and continuation of the country's progress hinge on restoring public trust," Khatami, a popular reformist, said, according to the sites.
"From the start, we said there is a legal way to regain that trust. I openly say now that the solution to get out of the current crisis is holding a referendum."
Khatami, according to the Web sites, also accused hard-liners of undermining democracy and challenging the foundations of the Islamic republic when they chose to stand by the election results.
"We need to ask the people whether they are satisfied with the current situation? If a majority of the people are happy with this situation, we will submit (to their vote)," he said, referring to the referendum.
It is too early to say whether Khatami's call for a referendum would be adopted by authorities, but it constitutes the latest challenge to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader who has the last word on state matters. Khamenei has declared the results of the elections valid.
On Monday, The Associated Press reported that Khamenei has told politicians to be careful in their stances on the country's postelection unrest, saying that disturbing security is "the biggest vice."
Under Iran's constitution, a referendum has to be ordered by Khamenei himself. All popular votes in Iran are monitored by an oversight body, the Guardian Council. Khatami, however, proposed that a neutral body, such as the Expediency Council, should monitor the proposed referendum instead.
Reformists have accused the Guardian Council of openly supporting Ahmadinejad in the election dispute.
The Expediency Council is a powerful clerical body that arbitrates disputes between the legislature and the government. It also advises Khamenei.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi claims he won the election, saying official results showing a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad are fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of Mousavi's supporters have staged street protests to denounce the results.
At least 20 protesters have since been killed and hundreds detained in clashes with security forces.
Khatami's suggestion that a referendum be held as a way out of the ongoing crisis comes just days after another former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticized the government's response to the election dispute in his first public comments since the election.
Rafsanjani denounced the government's violent crackdown against protesters and demanded the release of those detained. Instead of suppression, he said the government should work to address the concerns Iranians have over the legitimacy of the vote.
The sermon was a direct challenge to Khamenei and his hard-line supporters, who have said the election was fair and have called on opposition supporters to drop their claims of vote fraud. They have accused the U.S. and other foreign countries of fomenting the unrest — a charge they have denied.