Saturday, October 29, 2011

Khamene'i on Iran's Presidency

Earlier this month, Iran's leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i suggested the country might switch to a parliamentary system:
"The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told an academic gathering last week that “changing Iran into a parliamentary system” in which voters no longer elected a president would not be a problem. His words were widely seen as the latest blow in a battle that began in April when Mr. Ahmadinejad crossed a line by openly feuding with Ayatollah Khamenei — who has the final word in affairs of state — over cabinet appointments...

"Ayatollah Khamenei’s veiled attack on the presidency has drawn sharply polarized responses. Ali Larijani, the speaker of Parliament and a rival to Mr. Ahmadinejad, endorsed the comments and called for a parliamentary system. A former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has at times sparred with the supreme leader, warned on Tuesday that eliminating the presidency would “be contrary to the Constitution and would weaken the people’s power of choice,” according to the centrist newspaper Aftab News. Other partisans have gone further, with one pro-Ahmadinejad daily newspaper, Iran, seeming to mock the supreme leader’s comments. (That article was soon taken off the paper’s Web site.)"

On one level, these comments serve to illustrate the point that in Iran's system of Islamic government, the Leader, Khamene'i's office, is more fundamental than the presidency. Since I can't picture the elimination of Ahmadinejad's office over the next couple of years, however, I also see it as a proposal aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2009 presidential elections.

In Iran, candidates for office are vetted by the Council of Guardians. This body represents one of the cornerstones of clerical power, and routinely disqualifies reformist and other undesirable candidates for parliament. However, some candidates are simply too obviously qualified to keep out, such as 1980's prime minister Mir Hussein Musavi in those 2009 elections. If they run for a presidency, they create a battle over a high office that can serve as a rallying point for opposition. If they are limited to contesting parliamentary seats, however, they can be kept as the face of a minority faction, perhaps even proving useful to present the regime as democratic in tolerating debate and opposition.



Anonymous Cyrus said...

Mousavi was not a threat to the clerics and in fact he reportedly enjoyed the support of Rafsanjani, a cleric and founding father of the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad has better anti-clerical qualifications than Mousavi.
The Guardian Counsel did not reluctantly allow Mousavi to run simply because he was "too qualified" to eliminate, as you appear to suggest.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Brian Ulrich said...

"Clerical" was definitely the wrong framing, but I think the larger point about threats to the hardline clerics and the other elements near them stands

6:00 PM  

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