- Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shoraye Eslami or Majles, for short) has long been an arena for heated policy debates.
- The 290-member parliament is weak compared with the presidency, as well as with the non-elected institutions such as the 12-member Guardian Council and the supreme leader’s office.
- The Majles has been further weakened by the absence of conventional political parties and high turnover of members.
- The Majles has forced a degree of accountability on the executive branch through its powers over the budget, confirmation or impeachment of ministers, and interpellation, or issuing formal questions that the government is required to answer.
- Iran’s parliaments have always been diverse, including women and many ethnic minorities. It also designates five seats for religious minorities, including Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, proportionate to their populations.
- The next parliamentary election will be held in February 2016 and is expected to be highly contested. It will occur in conjunction with the election for the Assembly of Experts whose eight-year electoral cycle was delayed in order to make elections in Iran every two years instead of almost yearly.
- The first parliament (1980-1984) was the most eclectic. It included deputies from the liberal Freedom Movement, which was later banned.
- The second parliament (1984-1988) was almost completely taken over by the cleric-dominated Islamic Republican Party (IRP). But divisions within the IRP created a raucous and feisty atmosphere.
- The third parliament (1988-1992) was elected after a split among clerical groups and the 1986 disbanding of the IRP, so the new members mostly came from groups on the left of the political spectrum.
- Candidates for the fourth parliament (1992-1996) were heavily vetted by the Guardian Council, which paved the way for a takeover by conservative forces.
- The highly contentious election for the fifth parliament (1996-2000) created a Majles with relative balance between conservatives and a new political centrist organization called the Servants of Construction.
- This balance gave way to a decisive victory by reformists in the 2000 election for the sixth parliament (2000-2004).
- The Guardian Council’s wholesale disqualification of reformist candidates, including sitting reformist lawmakers of the sixth parliament, set the stage for the return of conservatives to power in the seventh parliament (2004-2008).
- The conservative dominance continued in the eighth parliament (2008-2012), again through aggressive vetting of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council.
- The election for the ninth parliament (2012- ) witnessed competition between two conservative coalitions and occurred in the midst of continued aggressive vetting and several key reformist parties’ decision not to participate. Voter apathy and mistrust lingering from the disputed 2009 presidential election and the political crackdown that occurred afterward also impacted results, particularly in large cities like Tehran. Elections for almost a third of the seats had to go to the second round between the two top candidates since no candidate was able to receive the minimum 25 percent of the vote. Eventually, the more moderate conservative coalition, the United Principlist Front, did better throughout the country, assuring the reelection of its leader Ali Larijani as Speaker. Nevertheless, hardliners managed to form a boisterous and active minority bloc that later challenged several of President Rouhani’s appointments and policies.
- Drafting legislation
- Ratifying international treaties
- Approving state-of-emergency declarations
- Approving foreign loans
- Examining and approving the annual budget
- Investigating all national affairs
- Approving a cabinet request for proclamation of martial law
- Removing cabinet ministers from office
- Recommending to the supreme leader that the president should be removed on the basis of political incompetence.
In practice, the Majles has been particularly active in examining the yearly budget, approving proposed candidates to head various ministries, and questioning cabinet ministers. The ninth Majles, for instance, has rejected several of Rouhani’s proposed ministerial candidates, has grilled his ministers — including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on nuclear talks — and impeached and removed his minister of sciences, research, and technology.
- The Majles will continue to be an arena of raucous interaction and confrontation with both elected and non-elected bodies. But parliament’s relevance will ultimately be determined by its ability to challenge the executive branch and implement the laws it passes.
- The elected parliament’s reliance on non-elected bodies, such as the office of the supreme leader, to resolve conflicts with the elected president enhances the powers of non-elected bodies.
- Any move towards a more democratic Iran must address parliament’s institutional and political weaknesses enshrined in the current constitution.
- Following the 2013 presidential election, which brought into power a president supported by an alliance of centrists and reformists, the 2016 parliamentary election will be highly competitive. Reformists are likely to reenter the contest despite the continued aggressive vetting of the Guardian Council.
This chapter was originally published in 2010, and is updated as of August 2015.
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