Larijani supports a parliamentary system to restrict the president

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani

Source: Mehr NewsDate: 22 October 2011

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has echoed a recent statement by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that it may be better for Iran to move from the current presidential system, in which the executive is directly elected by the people, to a parliamentary one in which the executive is selected by elected representatives in the Majlis (legislature).

In an interview with Mehr News on Saturday, Larijani spelled out the reasoning behind this idea, first raised by Khamenei, in greater detail. The thrust of his argument was that it may be better for strategic positions in Iran like the presidency to be indirectly elected, as is the case with the supreme leader who is selected by the Assembly of Experts, a body which is in turn elected by the people:

“Identifying these individuals [in strategic positions] is sometimes done by experts and sometimes the people elect directly. For example for the selection of the [supreme] leader, which requires that the individual [up for selection] be carefully examined,  the Assembly of Experts makes this decision…This method of selection makes sense for senior positions of the country and is rational for a position like that of the president which is very sensitive, the individual under consideration [must] be carefully selected…In a parliamentary regime the representatives of the people carefully consider the experience, management record, political acumen and diplomacy of individuals [seeking the executive position].”

He postulated that the lack of strong political parties in Iran was the reason why the presidential system was not be appropriate for Iran:

“However the presidential system is successful in countries that have major [political] parties, because major parties themselves act as a filtering system, and in parties the individuals who have experience and sufficient qualifications rise up.”

He was clear however that shifting to a parliamentary system did not mean that Iran would be returning to the pre-1989 political system in which there was both a president directly elected by the people and a prime minister selected by the legislature. Larijani also hinted at one of the other motives behind such a possible shift, namely stronger control by the Majlis over the executive authority:

“The suggestions of the [supreme] leader is anti-dictatorship. The selection of the president by experts elected by the people means that the Majlis will carefully watch the president and question him. This move means responsiblizing the position of the president.”

“When the president is chosen by the Majlis, the parliament can work better with him and can limit some of his powers…Switching from a presidential system to a parliamentary one is in some ways is better ordering the structure of the country.”

Editor’s note: A shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system in Iran would be in line with the present trend of limiting democratic freedoms and restricting the independence of elected officials. Putting aside the lack of basic human rights in Iran, which are necessary for a democracy, Iranians’ democratic freedoms are already legally limited in three important ways.

First, all presidential and Majlis candidates are filtered by the Guardian Council (GC). The GC is quasi-juridical body made up of six clergymen appointed by the supreme leader and six lawyers introduced by the Judiciary (itself controlled by the supreme leader) and confirmed by the Majlis. Because the GC filters the Majlis itself, the body is de facto under the control of the supreme leader, meaning only figures deemed sufficiently loyal to the system are allowed to stand for elections. The GC also vets legislation, giving it enormous power to represent the interests of the supreme leader through overseeing the legislative process.

Second, the supreme leader has the ability to issue commands, known as hokm-e hokumati, which must be obeyed by whoever is its target, including the president and Majlis.

Finally, a recent proposal introduced by the Majlis, known as the Supervision of Representatives Plan (Tahr-e Nezarat-e Namayandegan), would significantly restrain the autonomy of Majlis representatives and give the majority bloc in the Maljis the ability to censure and even eliminate those representatives who are seen as stepping out of line.

A transition to a parliamentary system, in which the Majlis would select the executive authority (either a president or prime minister) would be another nail in the coffin of democratic freedoms in Iran. Given the massive authority the supreme leader already exercises over the Majlis, the executive would likely be little more than a puppet of the supreme leader. This system would resemble that which existed under the Pahlavi regime, in which the Majlis for most of its existence was little more than a rubber stamp for policies of the shah (king). As one of the first countries in Asia to attempt to create a democratic system during the Constitutional Revolution of 1905, the current trend is step backward for Iran, whose political system more and more is coming to resemble neighbouring authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.