November 4, 2010
After months of wrangling, Iran’s parliament finally approved the outline of a new five-year economic, cultural and social plan on Oct. 30. Yet the vote underscored the divide within Iran’s legislature. The plan is also both so overly ambitious and so vague that the government will probably end up ignoring most of its objectives.
The plan offers insight into the tensions within Iran’s government.
The five-year plan, which is designed to guide government policy between 2011 and 2016, clearly did not generate enthusiasm. More than 100 members of parliament—over one-third of the 290 seats—did not even bother to show up. The plan, which is the fifth since the 1979 revolution, won only 131 votes, with 44 members of parliament voting against it, and 17 abstaining.
The next phase may be even tougher. Parliament must now deliberate the details, which could take up to six weeks. Given the acrimony so far, it may prove more of an exercise in venting frustration than a meaningful effort to shape the next five years.
Deliberation of the plan was at least six months behind schedule. The government package was supposed to take effect on March 21, the beginning of current Iranian year, to succeed the fourth plan passed during the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami. But it faced several problems.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office was late in delivering its proposals to parliament. The consideration of the plan was then delayed in the light of a separate political clash between the presidency and legislature over efforts to cut back on subsidies of fuel and basic foodstuffs. Critics also charged that the plan was more of an “essay” or “collection of wishes” lacking specific objectives and ways to reach them.
When parliament created a special committee to effectively re-write the plan, Ahmadinejad threatened in September to withdraw it altogether. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei eventually intervened. The compromise prevented the plan from being withdrawn but also did not address the legislature’s concerns.
Opponents of the plan say that it is not well structured and lacks both quantitative indices and transparency regarding sources of revenue. Some critics claim it conflicts with other legislation and even the constitution.
Members of parliament have also complained that the president’s handling of the plan reflects its abuse of power—notably in treating the legislature more like a nuisance than an equal body engaged in policy formulation and oversight.
The compromise text often uses language that “the government is permitted to” instead of “being obliged to” carry out the plan. Even more disconcerting for parliament is the lack of clarity about how parliament can exercise oversight.
Farideh Farhi is an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.