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Iran: Systemic Changes Could Weaken Elected Officials, Balance Government

(RFE/RL) The formal decision-making apparatus in the Iranian government has undergone a significant change in the last few days. This change, which gives the unelected Expediency Council supervisory powers over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, has been met with criticism from members of parliament. This development reduces the power of elected officials, but it could also reflect an attempt to restore balance to a system heavily dominated by younger hard-liners.

Enhanced Council Powers

Mohsen Rezai, secretary of the Expediency Council, was quoted on 2 October by "Sharq" -- as well as "Aftab-i Yazd," "Etemad," "Farhang-i Ashti," and "Hemayat" -- as saying that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently approved the council's oversight of the system's policies. In other words, he said, the council will supervise the three branches of government and report on their performance to the supreme leader. Rezai said Khamenei wanted the council to perform this function some eight years earlier, but the necessary laws did not exist.

About one year ago the council began work on the required statute, under which the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches must comply with whatever the Expediency Council says. Khamenei signed off on this about two months ago, according to Rezai. "Sharq" cited Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as saying previously that the Supreme Leader can delegate some of his responsibilities to others (per Article 110 of the constitution), and Rezai said this is what is taking place. Rezai referred specifically to oversight of the system's general policies, the fourth economic-development plan, and the 20-year plan.

This appears to be a significant enhancement of the Expediency Council's powers. When the council was created in February 1988, its primary purpose was to adjudicate in disputes over legislation between the Guardians Council and the parliament. Soon after its creation, it began to frame legislation -- something that ended only after 100 parliamentarians complained to the supreme leader. According to Article 112 of the Iranian Constitution, the council advises the supreme leader, and he consults with it when he wants to revise the constitution.

Fourth Branch?

Some members of parliament were quick to criticize the granting of new powers to the Expediency Council. Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami warned against making the council a fourth branch of government, "Etemad" and "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 October.

Alami said the legislature has the lead in national affairs. He cited Articles 6, 56, and 62, which say, respectively, that national affairs must be administered on the basis of elections; the people exercise sovereignty based on the separation of powers; and the people's representatives are elected directly by secret ballot. Alami also cited Articles 71 and 76, which say the legislature can establish laws and the legislature has the right to examine and investigate national affairs. Alami referred to Article 90, which states that an individual can forward a complaint about one of the branches of government to the legislature, and the legislature must investigate this complaint.

On the basis of the constitution, therefore, only the legislature can supervise the legislature, Alami said. "If this process continues, the principle of national sovereignty and its representation through the parliament will be exposed to serious danger," he said.

Another legislator, Reza Talai-Nik of Bahar and Kabudarahang, said that Article 110 only applies to supervision over the system's macro-policies, "Etemad" reported. "It is the responsibility of the Expediency Council to decide to what extent the country is moving within the context of the macro-policies of the system and evaluating those policies," he explained. "However, this does not mean supervision over executive affairs. Supervising the executive affairs is part of the responsibilities of the legislative power."

Vehicle For Influence

The Expediency Council, which Hashemi-Rafsanjani has chaired for approximately 15 years, is a vehicle for his political influence and power. But some observers believe that Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khamenei are political competitors, and that Khamenei threw his weight behind Hashemi-Rafsanjani's adversary in the June 2005 presidential race. This most recent development argues against this interpretation of power relationships in Iran. Nor is this the first time Khamenei has granted significant power to the Expediency Council.

In August 2001, for example, Khamenei had the Expediency Council determine the circumstances under which President Mohammad Khatami could be inaugurated. Perhaps the greater significance of the Expediency Council's new powers is that it is another case in which an unelected institution has been given power over elected ones. Moreover, it could reflect an effort to restore some sort of balance to the country's politics, in which hard-liners have come to dominate the executive and legislative branches.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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