Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Khamene'i and Parliament

I just had occasion to glance at Said Arjomand's After Khomeini: Iran under His Successors, and ran across this paragraph (on page 187):
"The greatest challenge to the legitimacy of the Leadership (Khamene'i's office) and the entire system of clerical conciliarism dependent on it came with the landslide victory of the reformists in the winter of 2000 (Majles elections). Ayatollah Khamenei was not daunted and acted with singular determination to stem the incipient tide as early as August of that year by order the Majles what not to do. From that point on, he entrusted the neutralization of the Majles to the Guardian Council formally and to the purposefully politicized judiciary informally. When the taming of the Majles as the only organ of popular will in the IRI was ruthlessly completed, the hardliners of the Seventh and Eighth Majles turned to the leadership for protection - this time not against the Guardian Council, which had no reason for further opposition, but against the Executive Power, now headed by one of their own who had turned out be a most imperious President (Ahmadinejad). The Leader, as the supreme arbiter over the Three Powers of the Republic, graciously obliged and took the humbled legislative power under his protection. As an expression of its deep gratitude and in an astounding feat of self-limitation in December 2008, the Majles exempted all activities under the auspices of Leadership from accountability to the people and its elected representatives. By explicitly giving up the fundamental right of oversight as a derivative of national sovereignty the Majles had greatly weakened the "republican" aspect of the IRI and its elected organs vis-a-vis the appointive organs, including the Guardian Council, which for this and other reasons was unlikely to find this legislation unconstitutional.

How much of a connection exists between these developments and the proposals recently floated to replace the presidency with a prime minister chosen by parliament? At issue is what one makes of the origins of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad relationship, and whether the Leader was actually using the latter to crush opposition while trying to remain above the fray hoping to keep him just enough under control that he would not become a threat to the Leader's own power. In 2005, it's not clear the traditional conservatives clerics knew what they were getting, but by 2009 they did, and Khamene'i spoke out in favor of Ahmadinejad well before the election.



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