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Encyclopedia > Iranian Constitution
Politics of Iran

Politics of Iran
Political parties in Iran
Elections in Iran
President: 2005
Majlis: 2004

The December 1979 constitution, and its 1989 amendment, define the political, economic, and social order of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It declares that Shi'a Islam of the Twelver (Jaafari) sect is Iran's official religion. The country is governed by secular and religious leaders and governing bodies, with sometimes overlapping duties. The head of state is a religious leader, titled the Supreme Leader. The constitution stipulates that this national religious leader is to be chosen from the clerical establishment on the basis of his qualifications and the high esteem in which he is held by Iran's Muslim population. The exact process involves an Assembly of Experts who has the rights to chose the leader.

The leader appoints the six religious members of the Council of Guardians (the six lay members--lawyers--are named by the Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majles); appoints the highest judicial authority, who must be a religious jurist; and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Council of Guardians, in turn, certifies the competence of candidates for the presidency, the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

The president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage to a four-year term by an absolute majority of votes and supervises the affairs of the executive branch. The president appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers (members of the cabinet), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the Islamic Assembly.

The parliament, officially titled the Islamic Consultative Assembly, consists of 290 members elected to a four-year term. The members are elected by direct and secret ballot. All legislation from the assembly must be reviewed by the Council of Guardians. The Council's six lawyers vote only on questions of the constitutionality of legislation; the religious members consider all bills for both constitutionality and conformity to Islamic principles.

In 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini created the Expediency Discernment Council, which resolves legislative issues on which the Parliament and the Council of Guardians fail to reach an agreement. The council later became a part of the amended constitution. Since 1989, it has been used to advise the Supreme Leader on matters of national policy as well. It is composed of the heads of the three branches of government, the clerical members of the Council of Guardians, and members appointed by the Supreme Leader for three-year terms. Cabinet members and parliament committee chairs also serve as temporary members when issues under their jurisdictions are considered.

Judicial authority is constitutionally vested in the Head of the Judiciary Branch, who is appointed by the Supreme Leader for five-year terms. The Head of the Judiciary Branch appoints a Supreme Court. A Minister of Justice is also appointed by the president from a list of candidates suggested by the Head of the Judiciary, but is only an administrative position. The Judiciary Branch is responsible for supervising the enforcement of all laws and for establishing judicial and legal policies.

The military is charged with defending Iran's borders, while the Revolutionary Guard Corps (a.k.a. Sepah) is charged mainly with maintaining internal security. Iran has 28 provinces, each headed by a governor general. The provinces are further divided into counties, districts, and villages.

Political conditions

Iran's post-revolution difficulties have included an eight-year war with Iraq, internal political struggles and unrest, and economic disorder. The early days of the regime were characterized by severe human rights violations and political turmoil, including the seizure of the United States embassy compound and its occupants on November 4, 1979, by Iranian militants. As the United States no longer has formal diplomatic relations with Iran, Switzerland handles U.S. interests in Iran.

By mid-1982, a succession of power struggles eliminated first the center of the political spectrum and then the leftists, leaving only the clergy and their supporters in power. There has been some moderation of excesses both internally and internationally, although there are claims that Iran still remains a sponsor of terrorism.

The Islamic Republic Party was Iran's dominant political party until its dissolution in 1987; Iran had no functioning political parties until the Executives of Construction Party formed in 1994 to run for the fifth parliamentary elections, mainly out of executive body of the government close to the then-president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. After the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997, more parties started to work, mostly of the reformist movement and opposed by hard-liners. This led to incorporation and official activity of many other groups, even including hard-liners. The Iranian Government is opposed by a few armed political groups, including the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the People's Fedayeen, and the Kurdish Democratic Party.

In February, 2003, for the second time local elections had taken place since being introduced in 1999 as part of President Khatami's concept of a civil society at the grassroots level. 905 city councils and 34,205 village councils were up for election. In Tehran and some of the major cities, all of the seats were taken back by conservatives over reformists. This swing was caused by widespread abstention from the local elections. In Tehran only about 10% of the electorate voted, following appeals by reformist groups.

Many of the estimated 41 million eligible voters were under the age of 30 for a turnout of about 49%. This was considered a failure. Recent elections had been regarded as a test of strength between western influenced reformists and hardliners but this vote could also be seen as a virtual referendum on President Khatami's popularity.

In February 2004 Parliament elections, the Council of Guardians banned thousands of candidates, including most of the reformist members of the parliament and all the candidates of the Islamic Iran Participation Front party from running. This led to a win by the conservatives of at least 70% of the seats. The turnout was about 50%, the least in parliament elections since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Country name:
conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Iran
conventional short form: Iran
local long form: Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran (Persian: جمهوری اسلامی ایران)
local short form: Iran (Persian: ایران)

Data code: IR

Government type: theocratic republic

Capital: Tehran (Persian: تهران)

Administrative divisions: Iran consists خب 28 provinces (ostaan-haa, singular: ostan); Ardabil, Azarbayjan-e Gharbi, Azarbayjan-e Sharqi, Bushehr, Chahar Mahall va Bakhtiari, Esfahan, Fars, Gilan, Golestan, Hamadan, Hormozgan, Ilam, Kerman, Kermanshahan, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Kohkiluyeh va Buyer Ahmadi, Kordestan, Lorestan, Markazi, Mazandaran, Qom, Qazvin, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchestan, Tehran, Yazd, Zanjan

Independence: April 1, 1979 (Islamic Republic of Iran proclaimed)

National holiday: Islamic Republic Day, April 1 (1979)

Constitution: 2-3 December 1979; revised 1989 to expand powers of the presidency and eliminate the prime ministership

Legal system: the Constitution codifies Islamic principles of government

Suffrage: 15 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
Supreme Leader (Rahbar): Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (since June 4, 1989)
head of state: President Mohammad Khatami (since August 3, 1997); First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref (since August 2001)
cabinet: Council of Ministers selected by the president with legislative approval
elections: Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts; president elected by popular vote for a four-year term; election last held June 8, 2001 (next to be held in June, 2005)
election results: Mohammad Khatami elected president for his second term in office; percent of vote - Mohammad Khatami 72% (up from 69% for his first term)

Legislative branch: unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami (290 seats, note - changed from 270 seats with the 18 February 2000 election; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held February - February 20, 2004 (next to be held in 2008)
election results: turnout - the Ministry of Interior Affairs announced a 50% turnout, the lowest in any general election since 1979; it was disputed by the Guardian Council, which claimed the result was closer to 60%; seats - the conservatives received 54% (156 seats), reformists received 14% of the vote (40 seats), and independents (34 seats); 60 seats were up for runoff election in May 2004. pre-election crisis - in the run-up to the election many reformist candidates, including about 80 members of the outgoing parliament, were disqualified by the Gaurdian Council; more than a 100 MPs protested by staging a sit-in in the parliament that lasted for about 3 weeks and ended to no avail; about 120 MPs then resigned and major reformist parties and groups stated they will not take part in the election but did not boycott it; the crisis resulted in a crack in the reformist front, when the Militant Clerics Assembly, of which President Khatami is a member, announced they will participate in the election.

Judicial branch: Supreme Court

Political parties and leaders: since President Khatami's election in May 1997, several political parties have been licensed; Executives of Construction (pro-reform); Followers of the Imam's Line and the Leader (conservative); Islamic Coalition Association (conservative) [Habibollah Asqar-Oladi]; Islamic Iran Solidarity Party (pro-reform); Islamic Partnership Front (pro-reform); Militant Clerics Assembly (pro-reform) [Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani]; Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution (pro-reform); Second Khordad Front (an umbrella of pro-reform groups and parties); (Tehran) Militant Clergy Association (conservative) [Secretary General Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani]

Political pressure groups and leaders: active student groups include the pro-reform "Organization for Strengthening Unity" and "the Union of Islamic Student Societies'; groups that generally support the Islamic Republic include Ansar-e Hizballah, Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam, and the Islamic Coalition Association; opposition groups include the Liberation Movement of Iran and the Nation of Iran party; armed political groups that have been almost completely repressed by the government include Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), People's Fedayeen, Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan; the Society for the Defense of Freedom

International organization participation: CCC, CP, ECO, ESCAP, FAO, G-19, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO, ITU, NAM, OIC, OPCW, OPEC, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WMO, WToO

  Results from FactBites:
Democracy and the Iranian Constitution (419 words)
We can say that in the Iranian Constitution the Sovereign Powers are independent of each other, but all of them are subject to the absolute authority and leadership of the Leader.
It is foolish to expect the Leader to willingly amend the Constitution to decrease his authority.
Furthermore, Article 177 requires that the substance and spirit of the Articles of the Constitution relate to the Islamic foundation of the system and to Islamic criteria for constituting the basis of all rules and regulations, and the Velayat-e- Amr va Imamat-e-Ommat (politico-religious leadership of the nation by the Leader) are immutable.
ICL - Iran - Constitution (12384 words)
After experiencing the anti-despotic constitutional movement and the anti-colonialist movement centered on the nationalization of the oil industry, the Muslim people of Iran learned from this costly experience that the obvious and fundamental reason for the failure of those movements was their lack of an ideological basis.
It is incumbent on all to adhere to the principles of this Constitution, for it regards as its highest aim the freedom and dignity of the human race and provides for the growth and development of the human being.
Iranian citizenship is the indisputable right of every Iranian, and the government cannot withdraw citizenship from any Iranian unless he himself requests it or acquires the citizenship of another country.
  More results at FactBites »



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