Will Iran Convert to a Parliamentary System?
A debate on constitutional revision aimed at a shift toward a parliamentary system is back on media outlets.
A member of the Independent parliamentary bloc’s board of directors Ezatollah Yousefian Molla has told media outlets a number of lawmakers are preparing a letter addressed to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ask him order a constitutional revision.
Put along similar remarks by other lawmakers like Mohammad Javad Kolivand and Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi, published by Iranian Parliament’s news agency ICANA, the issue of a potential shift to a parliamentary system seems to be serious. The issue was brought up for the first time six years ago, mid-October 2011, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spoke of the possibility during a visit to Kermanshah.
Speaking to students of Razi University, the Supreme Leader called the presidential system in which the president is directly elected by popular vote a well-tested method. “If, in the far or near future which will probably not be in the near future, it is sensed that a instead of the presidential system, a parliamentary system, like what is common in some countries in the world, it is alright, the Islamic Republic can transform the [current] line into the other. It makes no difference,” he said. Despite a series of comments on the possibility of the move, a serious consideration was put off until later.
Two years later in mid-January 2014, the chairman of the 9th parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee Allaeddin Broujerdi revealed to Young Journalists Club (YJC) that the issue was being looked into by expert teams who would then report to the Supreme Leader. In July 2014, lawmaker Younes Asadi told media outlets efforts were underway to revive the prime minister position, saying draft of a bill proposing parliamentary system was already being written. The efforts reached nowhere when the 9th parliament ended.
After six years, remarks made by Yousefian Molla, chairman of the committee in charge of preparing the parliament’s internal regulation, has once again sparked the debate. “The current circumstances cannot account for the needs. If the parliament wants interaction with the administration, it should close its eyes to many issues,” he said, explaining that the parliament’s supervision on the current laws puts it against the administration, with many thinking that cooperation with the government means asking no questions or enforcing no impeachments. According to Yousefian Molla, if an administration is shaped by Majlis, the parliament would be able to investigate every issue, whereas at the moment, the administration and the parliament both consider themselves blame-free in controversial issues such as astronomical pay slip scandal.
He has also noted that a move to a parliamentary system should occur at a time when the sitting president is in his final term, so that the move is not interpreted as an attempt to eliminate him. In other words, the lawmaker is signaling that President Rouhani should help materialize the move before he leaves office. In separate comments, the chairmain of parliament’s councils committee Mohammad Javad Koulivand has told ICANA that the etablishment of a parliamentary system should be investigated within the framework of general election policies.
He believes the move toward a parliamentary system requires effective studies. Saying the parliament reached the conclusion after the studies that followed the Supreme Leader’s remarks, he has called for work to be based on general policies. A member of the parliamentary judicial committee Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi has welcomed the bid in yet another interview with ICANA. “The revival of the prime minister position and parliamentary system is in the interest of the country, and requires a revision in the constitution,” ICANA quoted him as saying. He said part of the tensions over the separation of power at the top of the executive branch of the government will be eliminated and the parliament will be in a more harmonious relationship with the cabinet. The parliament votes to choose a prime minister to lead the cabinet causes the cabinet and parliament to start work together and finish their plans together, he added.
The spokesman of the councils and internal affairs committee Asghar Salimi has told ILNA that a move to a parliamentary system in is the authority of the committee, which have not discussed the issue yet. “The parliament lacks the consensus required to revise the constitution. The prerequisite to a parliamentary system is having strong, accountable parties,” he reiterated.
“It seems to be too early to replace a presidential system with a parliamentary one,” Salimi added. To realize a parliamentary system, according to Salimi, requires active, well-known, transparent, and accountable parties that could recruit and train forces to participate in elections and enter the parliament.
“We see that certain lawmakers who were voted in by different campaign shortlists have preferred their personal interests to those of their bloc. Thus, if we are to ever have a parliamentary system, choosing the prime minister by legislators’ vote, we should have strong parties as the backbone of an active parliament,” he added.
Judicial committee member Mohammad Javad Fathi has told pro-reform daily Etemad that he views the issue with suspicion. “A parliamentary system, in the sense that we will have no president and the parliament will choose a prime minister, contradicts with democracy in our political structure,” Etemad quoted Fathi. “The truth is the parliamentary election does not take place in a fully democratic framework and the Guardian Council somehow controls who can run. Lawmaker, having passed through the Council’s sieve, will get to choose the prime minister and this is inconsistent with democratic principles,” he explained. Fathi believes that the lack of a ‘fully’ democratic parliamentary election is made up for the presidential election where direct popular vote counts. He asserted that if the president is not elected by popular vote and the parliamentary election is controlled by another institution, the people’s democratic right to government will be violated. When asked on a preference between the two systems, he said the presidential system that is now implemented enjoys two popular votes, one for election of the lawmakers and one for election of the president.
Fathi argues that the so-called approbatory supervision by the Guardian Council impedes the full government of people but the flaw is somehow made up for by the two elections. However, if one of these electoral procedures were removed, then the people’s right would be further weakened. When asked if a shift to a parliamentary system could help hold the president and executive bodies more accountable, as the bid’s advocates believe, he said that would make no difference. However, Fathi said he found a move to a parliamentary system as a positively benevolent issue under one condition. “If we make the parliamentary system a pretext to integrate government bodies and merge revolutionary institutions into the administration it would be a positive move, in which condition it could justify reduction of the people’s right to elect the government,” he reiterated. “If so, we may stop seeing parallel institutions in our economic, cultural, and social structure,” he added. The integration, he argues, is an important factor in preventing corruption, as he believes a fragmented government structure has led to a waste of resources in Iran by multiplying costs and absence of accountability.