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The Coup, 50 years after: Dr. Mosaddegh's Democratic Mandate

By Fareed Marjaee, Canada
In this short piece I will illustrate the democratic process of Dr. Mosaddegh's ascendance to power by briefly discussing the historical context, the letter and spirit of the law.

Reza Shah's dictatorship ended in late summer of 1941 [Shahrivar 1320]; it coincided with the 13th term of the Iranian Parliament, Majles.  Understandably, under the Reza Shah dictatorship, the Majles was a rubber stamp process in every aspect of the political life, especially oil negotiations.   With the demise of the dictatorship a 12-year period of freedom and political/social excitement began which ended with the military Coup of 1953 (AJAX).  Those democracy activists who survived Reza Shah, emerged from prisons or hiding.  Mohamad Reza Shah apologized for the excesses of his father.  Numerous political parties and newspapers in the spectrum appeared on the scene -- let a thousand flowers bloom!

Two years later, in the first free parliamentary elections, the 14th term of Majles began its session.  It had a new composition.  After such a long time it included nationalist-democratic candidates.  As an elected member of parliament, Dr. Mosaddegh had earned the most votes among the representatives.  That is, the eligible voters going to the ballot box; somewhat in the style of Western parliamentaries.  In the 14th Majles, a coalition of 40 of the nationalist-democrat MPs (9 of them from Tudeh Party) had formed the "Democratic Minority Caucus," or "Aghaliyyat."  In spite of being the minority block, Mosaddegh and his caucus introduced and passed the "Nationalization of the Oil Industry Bill" in Majles.  The Bill had 9 sections [9 maddeh]; some of the components of the Bill stated that "the 1933 oil agreement between Reza Shah and the UK to be null and void since it did not protect Iran's national interests, and that Majles (8th term) under Reza Shah had no legitimacy and mandate to sign the agreements."  The Bill forbid any future Iranian government to enter any negotiations over oil with foreign interests, as long as any foreign occupying troops had remained in Iran.  It had the British and Soviet-occupying soldiers in mind.  Furthermore, the Bill required any future Iranian government to genuinely protect Iran's oil interests.

What took place during the 14th Majles worried the reactionary forces who were supposed to protect British interests in Iran, as well as agents of the Court and the Shah who were not happy with a constitutional monarchy, or an accountable king and Court.  They reminisced about Reza Shah's years as the absolutist monarchy.

Some years later, in this politically charged atmosphere, voters went to the ballot box to elect representatives and the next premier for the 15th term of Majles.  With the help of the military [as an organized right wing institution] the pro-Shah forces rigged the elections; with the hegemony of the right-wingers in the 15th Majles, Ghavam [Ghavamol'saltaneh] became the prime minister.... [Later in this piece, I will explain the constitutional mechanism for this, which is really the central issue of this writing.]  To protest the mishandling of the ballot boxes by the military and the royal Court, and the rigging of the election process at large, 19 of the senior nationalist-democrat personalities organized a sit-in [tahasson] at the gate of the Shah's Court.  This historical event was the germinal seed of the "Jebhe Melli," "The National Front" coalition. 

During the 15th term of Majles, in February of 1948 [1327] there was an unsuccessful and suspicious assassination attempt on the Shah's life.  The Shah (1) attempted to exploit this; and appointed general Razm'ara as Prime Minister; moreover, the Court attempted to increase its powers at the expense of the Majles representatives.  Razm'ara as premier had tried unsuccessfully to cancel the Majles in order to cancel the Oil Nationalization Bill [Layehe Naft].  We have to keep in mind that the political context and the democratic [anti-dictatorial] and anti-colonial sentiments had changed the country.  As indicated earlier, with the proliferation of political parties and newspapers/ journals, civil society had been strengthened.  At this juncture, the democratic/ popular forces unleashed were too powerful to be rolled back, short of a military coup.

The nationalist-democratic forces supporting Mosaddegh did well in the elections for the 16th term of Majles, in spite of interference from the military and the Court.  Now, here is the central issue of the discussion -- the constitutional process by which premiers, including Mosaddegh, were elected.  Eligible voters would go to the ballot box and elect parliamentary representatives; the MPs amongst themselves would vote on an MP with the highest earned popular vote to be prime minister.  Then, as a matter of formality, the Shah would endorse the individual through a "farman."  The Shah acted more or less as a constitutional monarch up to the '53 Ajax Coup.  So, premiership was based on this democratic mandate.  The term for "Parliamentary Consensus on premier" was called "Ra'y-e tamaayol."  This was the constitution and the law of the land then.  To draw an analogy, here in Canada, voters do not vote directly for the executive branch (federal or provincial); the electorate votes for the legislative MPs; the leader of the majority forms a government, and the cabinet ministers are chosen from the MPs sitting in the legislature.  It is a different system and no less democratic. 

At the outset of the 16th term of Majles, Mr. Jamal Emami, the head of right wing pro-British, pro-Shah Caucus bluffingly nominated Mosaddegh to be prime minister, thinking Mosaddegh would refuse again.  Mosaddegh as the MP with the highest electoral votes had been approached several times before; he had refused since several conditions he set were not met.  This time around, he accepted the nomination for premiership based on 2 distinct conditions: 1- no obstructions be placed in his way to bring to conclusion and execution the "Nationalization of Oil Industry Bill," passed in the 14th Majles; 2- future parliamentary elections be completely free, and that peoples candidates are not to be confronted with hindrance and electoral fraud.  These conditions were accepted, and Mosaddegh was nominated for premiership.

To control the political course and in violation of the constitution, the military command through secret and classified cables would put out a list of preferred candidates and would inform garrisons and different regional army commands in the country.  During the 16th term of Majles, Mosaddegh's government found access to these classified military cables.  During the oil dispute with the UK in the World Court at the Hague, these classified military cables were presented by Mosaddegh delegation to the Court to illustrate the illegitimacy [and there lack of mandate of] the 8th Majles under Reza Shah; and hence, the unacceptability of the 1933 oil agreement.  The Hague Court accepted the cables as evidence.

From 1941 to 1953 [1320 to 1332], from the end of the Reza Shah era to the 1953 military Coup, Iran was by and large a constitutional monarchy.  And, as mentioned above, it had a clear constitutional process to elect premiers, even though pro-Shah, pro-British sympathizers would resort to extra-legal methods to influence the political process, and stop the advance to democracy and nationalization of the oil industry.  In those 12 years all the premiers including Mosaddegh were elected through this constitutional mechanism -- Foroughi, Soheyli, Hakimi, Sa'ed Maraghe'i, Sadrol'ashraf and Hazhir.

In the 17th term of Majles, the nationalist-democratic block managed to form the majority in the parliament, with Mosaddegh as premier.  Returning from The Hague, Mosaddegh had brought the Nationalization Bill to conclusion and execution.  As part of his larger democratic-reform plan, his government had intended to introduce a new bill on election laws to further institutionalize democratic elections [Eslah-e Ghanoon-e Entekhabat]. However, at this juncture, the Ajax scenario and destabilization program was already in motion.  In this context of Ajax destabilization, the pro-Shah, pro-British minority block in the 17th Majles headed by MPs Mirashrafi and J. Emami were obstructing the work of the legislature and would stop bills from coming to the floor, including the proposed bill on "election laws" [for more details on this, the provocateurs in Majles and the specific CIA budget for it, see the Donald Wilber Report, Appendix B].


1-     By the word, the "Shah," I do not mean the person, but the political forces converged at the Court; i.e., 2 years ago, from the Donald Wilber Report we learned that a Nahavandi, Chief of Staff was a British agent.


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