- 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 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 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- ), again through aggressive vetting of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council.
- 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.
- 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.
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