On a Fresh Path
Diplomacy & Politics
As part of a referendum carried out in 1979, the constitution that consolidated the Islamic Republic was ratified by the Iranian people. This constitution confirms a positive role for the government as it strives to augment the country’s true economic and social potential. Under the framework of the constitution, the government is obliged to carry out favorable policies and take the necessary steps toward continuously improving the wealth of the country and the quality of life of its citizens.
Another characteristic of the Islamic Republic’s political system is the mandate to provide mechanisms for the participation of the people in the decision-making processes of the government. These participatory mechanisms were strengthened in 1999, following changes that authorized the popular election of city and village councils for the first time in the history of the country. The constitution also ensures a rational separation of powers between the different branches of the government, which prevents the accumulation of power in any one individual. In this way, Iran has been able to sustain and preserve its blend of Islam and democracy.
Looking beyond its borders, Iran has demonstrated interest in working alongside countries with similar systems of government, as well as those with common cultural ground. In the wake of heightened economic uncertainty, Iran has turned eastward to rising giants China and India, seeking to increase trade and relations. Meanwhile, Iran’s longtime ally Russia has proven to be a loyal partner as the country expands its commercial interests in the CIS states and post-Soviet republics.
According to the constitution, the highest-ranking government official is the Rahbar, or Supreme Leader, who is mandated to monitor the policies of the government. In doing so, the Supreme Leader ensures that each policy correlates with the principles and requirements of Islam. Although not heavily involved in the daily affairs of state, the Supreme Leader does have the power to intervene during the formulation of macro-policies. The Supreme Leader is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as well as the official who appoints the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader is elected by the Assembly of Experts and, once chosen, is qualified to serve a lifetime term of office. The current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was appointed to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, after having served as President of the country for eight years. Ayatollah Khamenei is a supporter of efforts to empower the private sector in the country. In 2007, he requested that the government make more intense efforts to speed up the privatization process and strengthen property rights by establishing special commercial courts under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.
The Assembly of Experts is an 86-member body consisting of the country’s leading jurists and scholars of Islam. Mandated to fill any vacancy in the post of leadership and monitor the Supreme Leader’s performance, each member of the Assembly of Experts is elected by popular vote for an eight-year term. The current speaker of the assembly is Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani.
The President, who is responsible for the formulation and execution of macro-policies and the implementation of the constitution, is popularly elected for a four-year term, with the possibility of being re-elected for one additional term of four years. The President also acts as Head of the Council of Ministers, which comprises 21 ministers responsible for various public services and policies.
The current President of the Islamic Republic is Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was first elected in 2005 and again in 2009, with 62.4% of the vote in the second round. President Ahmadinejad’s second and final term will expire in 2013, when the country holds another presidential election.
The Majlis, or Parliament of Iran, consists of 270 deputies who are elected every four years. The Parliament drafts laws concerning every aspect of governmental and social affairs. Regarding economic policy, the Parliament plays an important role as the body that investigates and approves the detailed and extensive Five-Year Development Plans (FYDPs), which are designed to guide the economic policies of the government. As an effective way for the people’s representatives to monitor and evaluate the cabinet, all members of the Council of Ministers must be approved individually by the Parliament. The Parliament can call for the dismissal of any number of the government’s ministers at any time. The current Chairman of the Parliament, Ali Ardeshir Larijani, was elected in 2008.
The Council of Guardians plays a role similar to that of constitutional courts found in other countries, as it inspects the laws passed by the Parliament to determine whether they comply with Islamic legal principles and the constitution. The Council of Guardians has 12 members, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The remaining six are nominated by the judiciary and approved directly by the Parliament. Another important task of the Council of Guardians is in overseeing the presidential and parliamentary election process. In office since 1988, the current Chairman of the Council of Guardians is Ahmad Jannati.
The Expediency Discernment Council of the System mediates between the Parliament and the Council of Guardians should there be a difference of opinion between the two institutions regarding legislation. The present leader of the Council is former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches of government, and the Head of the Judiciary is appointed directly by the Supreme Leader for a five-year tenure.
The structure of local government in the Islamic Republic balances effective administration with popular participation in all decision-making processes. The country is divided into 31 provinces (ostanha), with governors appointed centrally by the Ministry of the Interior. The allocation of financial resources toward the provinces is determined by the central government. The provinces are further separated into 324 counties (shahrestan), each of which includes a city with a population of 50,000 or more as well as smaller towns and villages. Cities and villages within shahrestan have their own local councils, whose members have been directly elected by the electorate since 1999. This popular election of local officials constituted an important political milestone in the history of the country, as it was the first time Iranian citizens were eligible to exercise control over local affairs.
City and village councils perform a broad range of functions including the election of mayors, the supervision and auditing of the budget of municipalities, and the planning and coordination of economic, social, and educational issues within their local constituency. The councils consist of five to 11 members, depending on the size of the population living in the city or village. However, this number can increase up to 15 in some special circumstances, as is the case of Tehran. Another important figure for the local governance system of Iran is the Imame Jomeh, or the leader of Friday prayers, who is appointed to every city and village by the Supreme Leader.
OLD FRIENDS & NEW ALLIES
Iran has long maintained regular diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia and other CIS states. Both Iran and Russia share important national interests in terms of developments in Central Asia and the CIS region, particularly concerning energy resources from the Caspian Sea. The country is eager to enhance its newer partnerships with powerful and densely populated India, Mexico, and China.
With a particular focus on Latin America, Iran is strengthening ties and identifying economic connections with a host of countries that are also working toward south-south cooperation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic “has prioritized the Latin American region and similar countries in its international relations with the aim of consolidating bilateral and multilateral cooperation,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi commented in an interview with TBY, adding that “Political, cultural, and economic commonalities between Iran and Latin America, as well as their shared views in the necessity of introducing change in the current international political and economic systems, have forced the two sides to take steps toward expanding relations.”
Iran has also become a member of notable international organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Demonstrating its commitment to leadership and participation in these organizations, Iran actively engages the community on issues pertaining to peace and security. In late August 2012, Iran encouraged OIC member states to support member state Syria as it sought to resolve its internal conflict. In addition, Tehran hosted the NAM summit in 2012, treating the event with wide media coverage and broadcast interviews with numerous diplomats and foreign officials.
Iran’s improved economic ties with a diverse set of countries around the globe and the steps the country has taken toward integrating Islam with democracy has led to its crucial role in international affairs. Domestically, the country’s unique and sustainable system is looking to the future with strength and optimism.