Opinion: The supreme leader comes first in Iran

By forcing parliament to review a law, the supreme leader has made it clear that he is the real decision-maker and neither parliament nor government can function the way they are supposed to, says Jamshid Barzegar.

On December 4, 2018, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei asked the Majlis (Iran's parliament) to correct its recent bill on retirees saying, "There are some gaps in the law which should be addressed." Although he stressed the necessity and importance of the "No Retirees Law," he said it needed to be modified after some officials asked him to allow a number of retired managers to be reinstated.  

The rule was approved by parliament in September 2018 and banned retirees from being re-employed in the public sector. Once the law came into effect, several senior officials, including deputy ministers, were replaced by younger officials. But the ban did not apply to the country's president, the parliament's speaker and vice speakers, members of the Guardian Council, chief of the judiciary, ministers, legislators and vice presidents.

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"This is a very good law. We needed this law," Ali Khamenei told the public, adding "it breaks Iran's closed circle of administration and opens up the path for the younger generation after a long time." He, however, criticized the Majlis and asked its members to ratify the modification. "To take this law as a whole is not correct. There might be some people, maybe not too many, for whom there can be no substitutes." Khamenei added.

Politics | 23.07.2018
HA Asien | Jamshid Barzegar

Jamshid Barzegar is head of DW's Farsi service

The law in question crossed all legal hurdles and was implemented despite protests from current officials, many of whom were affected by the new rule despite long years in service. It was confirmed by the Guardian Council, a body appointed by the supreme leader that oversees the functioning of the Majlis and interprets the constitution, among others. The council, the government and the parliament had not taken any objections into consideration previously. Following Khamenei's public speech, however, the Majlis immediately announced that the law would be reviewed and amended.

Not the first time

This is not the first time that the Islamic Republic's supreme leader has bypassed all legal channels and imposed his command on bodies such as parliament, which is based on the mandate of the people and which, according to the constitution, is the only body authorized to ratify bills.

Over the past four decades and on numerous occasions, both Khamenei and his predecessor, Khomeini, have directly interfered with laws, ignoring legislative procedures within the Islamic Republic's structure.

In August 2000, for example, when reformist MPs tried to adopt the Press Law and open up the media in Iran, Ali Khamenei prevented the move by sending a letter to Mehdi Karroubi, who was the speaker of parliament at the time. In his letter, he said MPs should stay away from the law, and as a result, the Majlis did not amend the rule despite the majority's willingness to do so.

In 2006, Khamenei changed the constitution's Article 44, which concerned the privatization of Iran's economy.

According to Iranian law, changing the constitution can be done only by a referendum. In 2009, the supreme leader dismissed former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's deputy Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, forcing him to appoint someone else. He also did not allow MPs to question the president in 2012.

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And as an ongoing, but unwritten policy in Iran, presidents should first get the supreme leader's approval on the appointment of ministers. However, the law demands that parliament should approve ministers named by the president.

Above everything else

The supreme leader's commands are not limited to bodies and offices that are based on public vote such as parliament and presidents. In some cases, he has vetoed the decisions of nonelective bodies as well. During the 2005 presidential elections, for instance, the Guardian Council disqualified six candidates close to reformists, but later two of them were approved by Ali Khamenei himself.

It appears that although the role of parliament is enshrined in Iran's constitution, in reality, MPs must consider the supreme leader's standpoint above anything else. This rule applies to all sections, ranging from foreign policy to the country's judicial system. It doesn't matter whether the officials have been elected or appointed by him, the leader's commands come first.

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During the Iran nuclear deal negotiations, it was clear to all that whatever the foreign minister or the president said would be valid only when the supreme leader confirmed it. The deal itself became official in Iran only after his approval. The same is the case with regional policy. It does not really matter what the foreign minister, the president or the members of parliament think.

As is being said in the Islamic Republic, "He has the final say." In other words, the supreme leader is above everybody and everything.

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