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Iranian reformists see free elections, not constitutional changes as way out of crisis

By Nazanin Kamdar, Rooz Online

Iran: Khamenei names special group to examine constitutional change

Even though the suggestion that Iran’s supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei made two weeks ago about changing the constitution of the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system received a cold response in domestic political circles including key regime personalities such as ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Majlis members who is close to the conservatives yesterday announced that ayatollah Khamenei had named a special group to examine the possibility of amending the constitution.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran's complex and unusual political system combines elements of a modern Islamic theocracy with democracy. A network of elected and unelected institutions influence each other in the government's power structure. (see high resolution)

As reported by Fars news agency, while announcing this development, Mohammad Dehgan, a presiding board member of the Majlis stressed that provisions of the constitution that relate to the leadership, velayate fagih (rule of clerics), and of course the republican nature of the regime, as provided in the constitution, would not be impacted.

Developments regarding changing the constitution of the Islamic republic of Iran which were first suggested by ayatollah Khamenei, a change that Rafsanjani has called “limiting the republican nature of the regime,” come amid comments made by a Mashhad radical cleric Ahmad Elm-alHoda, who had described the change last week as a measure to “end the differences between the executive branch and the Majlis.”

In response to this possible constitutional change, reformers and Green Movement political prisoners in Iran have said that the only way out of the current crisis in the country is to hold free elections, and not in changing the constitution.

Dehgan presented what he believes as the views of ayatollah Khamenei by saying, “The proposal that the supreme leader of the revolution has presented regarding changing the structure of the regime to a parliamentary system, is a comprehensive approach: it should be noted that the modernization of the structure of the Islamic republic of Iran comes through reforming the political structure and one cannot have modernization without changes to the second level structure of the state. Therefore, this proposal was purposeful.”

Calling the constitution of the Islamic republic “divine” in referencing its provisions related to the authority of the vali fagih (clerical leader), this conservative MP also said, “we should note that if the first principle of the constitution is divine, so is article 177. We should not interpret changes in some provisions of the constitution to mean the divine nature is put under question. According to article 177 the supreme leader of the revolution has the authority, if he deems it necessary, to issue an order, according to law, so that members of the State Expediency Council plus 49 prominent individuals, comprising of the heads of the three branches of government, 5 members of the Assembly of Experts on Leadership, a number of Majlis representatives, members of the Guardians Council, 3 academicians, 3 individuals from the judiciary, 3 individuals from the executive branch, and 10 individuals selected by the supreme leader examine the proposals of the supreme leader regarding some provisions of the constitution.”

Dehgan, who had earlier hinted at possible constitutional changes by saying, “The future presidential election may not take place,” has said, “We currently have a system that is neither parliamentary nor presidential. We have a semi-parliamentary and a semi-presidential system with aspects of parliamentarism. Our system is not a full presidential system. While it is true that the president is directly elected by the public, but this is only one characteristic of the presidential system. In a presidential system not only is the president directly elected by the public, but he is also the head of state, which means he has the authority to dissolve the parliament. In our country the president is only the head of the cabinet. The head of state is the vali fagih (clerical leader). In a presidential system the president has the last say, the armed forces are under his command and he is not responsible to the parliament and can even veto the laws of parliament.”

Following ayatollah Khamenei’s initial suggestion of the constitutional changes, Elm al-Hoda said at a Friday prayer sermon in Mashhad that the reason for the suggestion was because, “Majlis representatives have been saying that since the supreme leader observed that the administration was not following the laws of parliament, he decided that elections should be on a parliamentary system.”

It should be noted that following Hashemi Rafsanjani’s recent negative remarks about the possibility of removing the presidency, websites and personalities commenting on the constitutional change have become more cautious in their remarks and have stressed that the supreme leader did not mean to weaken the vote of the public through his suggestion.

Rafsanjani had said, “Republicanism and Islam are the two fundamental and irrevocable pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course the supreme leader has suggested the possibility of an examination of a constitutional change for a distant future because such a change would mean a change in the republican nature of the system, otherwise such a change would weaken the republican aspect unconstitutionally and would limit the voting powers of the public, which is definitely not something that the leader has in mind.”

He also made a pointed remark when he said, “If the spirit of the constitution and the electoral law are properly implemented, without interference of personal views, future elections in the country will be transparent, healthy and fair.”

Rafsanjani’s remarks about fair elections and his stress them being free rather than on talking about changing the constitution because of the concerns that ayatollah Khamenei has in dealing with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seems to have shifted the attention of political circles back to free elections as the top issue of the country, and not changes to the constitution. Another veteran cleric ayatollah Mousavi Khoeiniha even specifically has said, as reported on Nowruz website, that “instead of changing the constitution, free elections should be held” in the country. Khoeiniha is the secretary of the pro-reform Association of Combatant Clerics (Majmae Rohanyune Mobarez), whose members also include former president Mohammad Khatami elaborated on the issue with these words, “I humbly present to the representatives and all officials that the solution is not in the law or in changing the constitution and altering the presidential nature of the system with a parliamentary system but in respecting the will of people, their wishes and their votes.”

A group of 63 prominent Iranian political prisoners too have issued a statement in this regard calling for free elections rather than changes to the constitution. In their letter they associate the current Iranian Majlis with the Egyptian parliament under former president Hosni Mubarak which they label as “appointed” and call on the public to “welcome” forthcoming elections only if they are free and healthy, otherwise they should not legitimize the “illegal” forthcoming elections.

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