Politics of Iran
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Politics of Iran
The December 1979 Iranian constitution
defines the political, economic, and social order of the Islamic republic. 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, and duties often overlap. The chief ruler is a religious leader or, in
the absence of a single leader, a council of religious leaders. The constitution
stipulates that this national religious leader or members of the council of
leaders are to be chosen from the clerical establishment on the basis of their
qualifications and the high esteem in which they are held by Iran's Muslim
population. This leader or council appoints the six religious members of the
Council of Guardians (the six lay members--lawyers--are named by the National
Consultative Assembly, or Majlis); appoints the highest judicial authorities,
who must be religious jurists; and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The Council of Guardians, in turn, certifies the competence of candidates for
the presidency and the National Assembly.
The president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage to a 4-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 National Assembly.
The National Assembly consists of 290 members elected to a 4-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 limited questions of the constitutionality of legislation; the
religious members consider all bills for conformity to Islamic principles.
In 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini created the Council for Expediency, which resolves
legislative issues on which the Majles and the Council of Guardians fail to
reach an agreement. Since 1989, it has been used to advise the national
religious 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 national religious leader for 3-year
terms. Cabinet members and Majles committee chairs also serve as temporary
members when issues under their jurisdictions are considered.
Judicial authority is constitutionally vested in the Supreme Court and the
four-member High Council of the Judiciary; these are two separate groups with
overlapping responsibilities and one head. Together, they are responsible for
supervising the enforcement of all laws and for establishing judicial and legal
The military is charged with defending Iran's borders, while the Revolutionary
Guard Corps 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.
Iran's post-revolution difficulties have included an 8-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 U.S. embassy compound and its occupants on
November 4, 1979, by Iranian militants.
By mid-1982, a succession of power struggles eliminated first the center of the
political spectrum and then the leftists, leaving only the clergy. There has
been some moderation of excesses both internally and internationally, although
Iran remains a significant sponsor of terrorism.
The Islamic Republican Party (IRP) was Iran's dominant political party until its
dissolution in 1987; Iran now has no functioning political parties. 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, 14 of the 15 seats were taken back by
conservatives (the harsh islamic type) 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.
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.
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.
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