Free Democracy in Iran Essay Sample

On the face of things, Iran has some features of a democratic nation. Its constitution, for example, proclaims the division of power in the country into three branches. Thus, like a democratic state, Iran has legislative bodies, judicial bodies and executive bodies. This division is designed to preclude concentration of powers in the hands of one organ, so that democracy would prevail over dictatorship. At the same time, however, Irans constitution stipulates the office of the supreme leader, which holds paramount authority in the country and can override decisions adopted by other organs as well as appoint handpicked candidates to key offices in the judiciary, civil government and the military. The office of the supreme leader is in many ways inconsistent with the tradition of democracy, not least because this leader is selected by an incestuous body of theologians called the Assembly of Experts. This is a proper characteristic of a theocracy. Above all, Iran is a theocratic state. Illustratively enough, members of the Assembly of Experts must be approved by the 12-member Guardian Council, half of whom are selected by the supreme leader. In these circumstances, a great deal of power in Iran is diverted from the three traditional branches of power. Additionally, there are several other reasons why Irans political system is incongruous with democratic traditions. This paper will briefly outline Irans political system and assess the state of democracy in this nation to understand whether the seed of democracy has a chance to fall on fertile soil in Iran. The preliminary findings suggest that democracy does not extend further than the voting booth in Iran, but even there Iranians can elect only some of their leaders.

 
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It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Irans political system is unique. Even though the country has both a president and a speaker of the parliament, neither of the two holds greater power that the supreme leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the incumbent supreme leader, delineates and supervises the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran or, in other words, sets the direction of the countrys foreign and internal policies. In addition to holding the ultimate say over domestic and foreign policies, the supreme leader is also the commander-in-chief. Most important, however, he appoints key officials in nearly all sectors of the countrys swollen bureaucratic apparatus. This means that the supreme leader has an effective stranglehold over all sectors of the government.

Unlike the supreme leader, who is appointed for an infinite period of time, Iranian president can only serve two terms of four years. Although considered the second most influential position in Iranian politics, the president, in fact, has limited executive powers. The problem is that the Iranian constitution redirects the typical powers of a president to the supreme leader, making Iran the only nation where the executive branch holds no control over the military. Although a cabinet of 22 ministers and 8 vice presidents is subordinate to the president, their actual clout is again limited by the supreme leader. The thing is that the presidents ministers are commonly inferior to the supreme leaders representatives in the same departments. This idiosyncrasy considerable erodes democracy in Iran.

Irans parliament is nominally independent and is not subordinate to the supreme leader. Comprised of 290 MPs, who convene during parliamentary sessions to adopt legislation and ratify international agreements, the parliament is dominated by reform-minded non-cleric candidates. Recently, the share of reformist MPs in the parliament has been on the rise, reflecting the pro-democratic moods of society. Even so, activities of the parliament are checked by the Council of Guardians, which, in its turn, is subordinate to the supreme leader. Indeed, the Council of Guardians scrutinizes all laws registered in the parliament to ascertain whether they do not violate the sharia law. The Council of Guardians is in a position to examine compatibility of the proposed laws with the sharia, because its 12 members are all well-versed in the Islamic law and have proper theological background. According to some estimates, the Council of Guardians overturns as much as 20% to 40% of the legislation adopted in the parliament. In addition, the council determines which candidates, including presidential hopefuls, should be allowed to run for the office.

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The Council of Guardians also decides if individuals should be eligible to run for a seat in the Assembly of Experts. Once elected, the 86-member body of clerics serve as advisors to the supreme leader. Technically, they have the power to depose the supreme leader. In reality, however, they seldom defy the authority of the supreme leader or speak against the decisions he makes. The Assembly of Experts is not the only influential advisory body that reports to the supreme leader. Thus, the Expediency Council, established in 1988 to solve intractable disputes between the parliament and the Council of Guardians, also serves as an advisory body to the supreme leader. In practice, this means that the council is controlled by the supreme leader and defends his standpoint in the arising disputes.

The supreme leader also holds sway over many other institution in the country. Thus, just as the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Supreme National Security Council the two main security institutions in Iran also report to the supreme leader. In effect, the two institutions are designed to protect the achievements of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in addition to maintaining national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Although neither of the two groups is monolithic, they are both dominated by conservative hard-liners loyal to the supreme leader. When security agencies fail to prevent transgressions against the countrys revolutionary achievements, transgressors are tried in revolutionary courts, whose decisions cannot be appealed. The revolutionary courts as well as the remainder of the Iranian judiciary are also controlled by the countrys supreme leader, who nominates and confirms the minister of judiciary.

The dominance of the supreme leader in the national political system have proved successful in maintaining stability in the country. Yet, this dominance is inimical to the prospects of democracy in Iran. Indeed, compared to the supreme leader, other branches of power in Iran hold only an attenuated say over national politics. In these circumstances, democratic initiatives in Iran, unless they gain support of the supreme leader and his handpicked advisors, do not have a chance to reach fruition. Because the key positions in the bodies of power that have real power are held by clerics, they look askance at democratic initiatives. Even elected representation, the most basic hallmark of a democratic society, is not firmly established in Iran. For example, in 2002, when President Bush denounced the repression of Iranian peoples democratic cravings by an unelected few, he referred to the Expediency Council. Yet, the unelected few is a bigger problem, as few officials with real authority in Iran are elected through nationwide voting.

This paper has shown that Irans political system is intricate. It formally has three branches of power: legislative, executive and judicial. Yet, all three are, to a lesser or greater degree, subordinated to the countrys supreme leader. The office of the president is largely ceremonial, while the activities of the parliament are checked by the Council of Guardians, which also reports to the supreme leader. Although clerics have gradually lost their say in the parliament, they still exercise control over politics in the country. Clerics in the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts veto laws that violate the sharia and otherwise impede effective democratic process in the country. What is more, the most influential politician in the country that is, the supreme leader is also a cleric to his core. Because Iranian clerics take a jaundiced view of democratic values and principles, democracy has little chance to succeed in Iran. Only after the countrys political system is overhauled and reorganized to concentrate power in the offices that are elected by the populace will the seed of democracy have a real chance to fall on fertile soil in Iran.

 

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