Iran Four Decades Later

12 m.   |  2019-02-25

Peculiarities of the IRI public administration system

T he Islamic Republic of Iran stands out among the Middle East and the Persian Gulf states with its unique state governmental system. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 due to its flexible public administration system, the IRI military and political leaders succeeded in overcoming internal and external challenges. One of these major challenges was the Iran-Iraq War along with the long-term international economic sanctions it has endured and the threat of a military attack from the US and dangers of separatism.

The public administration system of Iran has its peculiarities, and therefore their internal and external policy is often perceived in a unique way. When comparing it with the Persian Gulf and the Middle Eastern countries governmental systems, Iran is more often considered a democratic country according to the “Eastern criteria.” Power is formed through the direct election of the people also the three wings of parliament quite efficiently counteract each other which help to strengthen its democratic system.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran was adopted (98.2% vote) a year after the Revolution of Iran in 1980, on the basis of a public administration system.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is governed by the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Powers, which act under the ideology of the Velayat-i Faqih (religious-judicial governing), under the supervision of the spiritual leader. For about a decade after the adoption of the Constitution, in 1989, the activities of the spiritual leader, the judiciary and the executive authorities including other entities of the public administration were changed and supplemented. This was the initiative of Imam Khomeini, the founder of the IRI.

Spiritual Leader

T he spiritual leader of Iran is elected for life by the Council of Experts (Majles-e Khobregan), which is one of the main structures of Iran’s state governmental system. Since the Islamic Revolution, it has been involved in two major decisions: in 1986 Hussain-Ali Montazeri was appointed Imam Khom Khomeini’s proxy and in 1989 Ali Khameneini was appointed as a spiritual leader as a result of inter-political events.

The Assembly of Experts consists of 88 members, who, according to the Constitution, must be loyal to the Islamic system, in order to get the right to elect a spiritual leader and then assess his activity.

The main rights and responsibilities

T he Spiritual Leader being the Supreme Commander of the country’s Armed Forces defines and controls the general state policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran after round table discussions with the Council for Distinguishing Expediency of Establishment (Majma'-e Tashkhis-e Maslahat-e Nezām). The Spiritual Leader also has the right to hold a referendum, declare a war and organize a mobilization.

Moreover, many positions are appointed and dismissed by the spiritual leader such as the head of the judicial power, Chief of the Armed Forces, the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (ISAF), the head of the Radio and Television services.

Death or Resignation of a Spiritual Leader

In the case of the death or resignation of the leader, the Assembly of Experts presents a new leader. Till the new appointment, all the duties are carried out by the temporary assembly, which includes the President of the country, the head of the judicial body and a clerical from the Guardian Council (Shura-e Negahban) as well as the Expediency Discernment Council.

Referring to the powers of the Spiritual Leader entrusted by the Constitution of Iran we should state, that sometimes they are overestimated.  There is a perception in Iran that everything is decided by the Spiritual Leader and in that context Iran’s administrational system is characterized by the classical political classifications, which gives a misinterpretation of Iran’s state government system.  

The current Spiritual Leader of the IRI Ali Khamenei is 80 years old and has been in power since 2014. His physical condition has often become a rumor in Israeli, Arabic and Western Media outlets during the tension with Iran.

In the following years, Ali Khamenei succeeded in increasing his influence both on the Expediency Council and the Council of Experts. Khamenei’s position was further strengthened among the spiritual elite in 2017, after the death of the ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Rafsanjani has presented the issue of who will be the successor of the Supreme Leader through public discussions on different platforms. He emphasized the importance of the supreme leader’s election. Also he suggested the necessity for creating a “Leadership Council”.  The Iranian Media also discusses the issue of who will replace Ali Khamenei. A number of candidates are discussed within that context, among which are Sadeq Ardeshir Larijani Chairman of Expediency Discernment Council (the brother of IRI Majlis Spokesperson), Ebrahim Raisi Chairman of “Astan-e Ghods” foundation (in 2017 presidential elections he was H. Rouhani’s main opponent), Sayyed Mojtaba Khamenei son of Ali Khamenei, as well as other high-ranking clergies.

Judging by the developments, it isn’t entirely impossible that an unfamiliar clergy might be elected as a Supreme Leader after Khamenei. Both the elections of the ex-presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the current president Hassan Rouhani were a surprise, which means that the above mentioned figures are not the highest rated candidates according to the predictions made in Iran and abroad.

Executive Power

Before referring to the formation of the executive power, we will introduce some of the peculiarities of Iran’s electoral system. Prior to holding the elections, the President and Deputy Candidates are examined in the Guardian Council. If there is suspicion, that the candidates can deviate from the goals set by the Islamic Revolution and become a threat to the state system, their candidacy is denied.

Usually about 500 citizens submit an application for the candidacy during the Presidential elections, of which only 10-12 register as a candidate. Sometimes there are ex and current high-level officials among the denied candidates.

It should be stated, that during the Presidential elections in 2017, the Guardian Council didn’t register the candidacies of IRI ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his deputy Hammid Baghaei.

The President is the second highest-level official after the Spiritual Leader, who is elected for a 4-year term by the direct election of the people. Moreover, the president can be elected for two terms. During the presidential race, the Spiritual leader tries to persuade voters to make the right choice and refrain from publicly supporting any of the candidates.

The President runs the Executive Power. During the first presidency period of Hashemi Rafsanjani the Prime Minister’s Position was eliminated after the 1989 Constitution change. Hence, the Prime Minister’s function is to assess the President’s first Deputy comparing its activities to the ministries’ cabinet and to other deputies of the President.

Iran has had 7 presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Except for the first two presidents, all the rest were in office for two terms. Abolhassan Banisadr was the first President of IRI (1980-1981), to whom the Parliament expressed concern of deviating from the Islamic Revolution goals. A fact connected with the case is: in 2017 IRI Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei during one of his speeches, expressing his dissatisfaction with the Government’s activity, referring to Banisadri, hinting indirectly to Hassan Rouhani to draw lessons from the historic situation.

The 2nd President of IRI Mohammad Ali Rajai run for 2 months, from July 1981 to August 1981 becoming a victim of terrorism. The following presidents Ali Khamenei (1981-1989), Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997), Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) ran full two terms.

Legislative Power

L egislative Power and the Majilis, has an important role in Iran’s state governmental system, which besides legislative activity, quite effectively has a counterbalance to the executive power. Majilis has a number of powers reserved by the Constitution, through which the legislative power not only controls the Government’s activities, but also has a significant influence on the internal and external policy of the Government.

The President should receive a vote of confidence from the Majilis after the formation of the Government and before starting its work. Besides the formation of the government each minister should present to the Majilis discussion the program related to the ministry’s activity. If the program doesn’t receive the Parliament’s approval, the President must appoint a new minister.

Both the ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the current President Hassan Rouhani were forced to review their decisions while forming their Government, and had to replace the ministers who received the distrust of the Parliament with new ones.

The Majilis has the right to demand explanations regarding the external issues both from the President and from the ministers: the parliament has the right to start a process of distrust against the ministers.

For that reason, the conflict between the Majilis and government intensified in 2015, when, during the negotiations on the nuclear program between Iran and the United States, IRI Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was often invited to the Majilis to give explanations about the meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Moreover, the activities of the Majilis are counterbalanced by the Guardian Council of the Constitution (Shura-e Negahban), which decides the conformity of the decisions adopted by the Majilis within the Islamic norms and by Constitutional laws.

All the laws and decisions adopted by the Majilis should be passed to the Guardian Council for discussion and in case of any disagreements by the Guardian Council needs to return the proposed legislation back to the Majilis for further discussion. Once the round table discussions are over and there are no objections against the new legislation, it becomes a new law.  

It should be stated, that the cooperation between the Majilis and the Guardian Council in many cases gives the Government an opportunity to flex its muscles, which can present any international agreement or convention to the Majilis’ for discussion, showing the international community, that Iran is faithful to commitments set by the Majilis and the Supreme leader.

Among such topics that were discussed by the Majilis was the nuclear agreement between Iran and “5+1 group”, the bill on the Counter-Terrorism Financing Convention (CFT) and the Convention on the legal status the Caspian Sea.

If any international convention under the initiative of the Government is approved by the Majilis, then the Guardian Council has the right to examine and renounce it. While further understanding the state administration system of Iran, all the institutions of the IRI state system, from the spiritual leader to the mayor are formed through elections. Despite the strict counterbalances that are in place, each state institution carries out its own functions observing the maintenance of the Islamic system and ensuring the country’s territorial integrity as its main goal.

Despite its complex structure, the IRI’s state government system could display flexibility to the internal and external realities that existed after the Islamic Revolution and keep the country both away from internal political shocks and from external threats. Proceeding from that logic, the IRI governmental system based on the “Velayat-e Faqih”, has technically changed over the last 40 years, which has had a great influence on Iran’s community regardless of it swaying but mainly conservative ideology.

The “Religious-Nationalist” (Melli-Mazhabi) movement has been formed since the Islamic Revolution, which involved many oppositional figures having social-democratic ideology during the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani. When Mohammad Khatami was elected President in 1997, the powers loyal to the leader of the revolution Imam Khomeini (Peirovan-e Khat-e Imam) united around the “conservative” ideology, who thought that the powers supporting Mohammad Khatami deviated from the basic principles of the revolution. Since that the “conservative”-“reformist” ideological division started.

The years of government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the most remarkable in terms of changes, when the “reality” (iraniat) or “Iranian nationalism” became widespread among most of the intellectuals and the youth. They were used by the State to consolidate society around the ideology of protecting the territorial integrity of Iran.

Nowadays, a great majority of influential clergymen of the Islamic Revolution leaders’ previous generation has moved on. The changes influenced by the internet and by the increase in the role of social network on political processes still go on. Today’s IRI religious-political elite, despite the stereotypes, tries to provide adequate resilience to the existing challenges, for maintaining the Islamic system through the ever continuing changes.

Even after the revolution, society’s mode of life, Islamic clothing and other issues in the early 1980s including radical approaches dominating both the religious-political elite and the broader layers of society have molded over the years. These recent processes in Iran’s public life, have caused changes in which were considered unacceptable 40 years ago.