Is Iran serious about election reform?

A new proposal foresees the establishment of an independent nat'l election commission which would take over organizing elections.

By ALI KHERADPIR
March 16, 2010 06:45
3 minute read.
Pro-government demonstrators gather in the central

teheran victory gate rally 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Proposals are emerging in Teheran to reform Iran’s electoral system after last year’s disputed presidential election. But hardliners are saying they intend to stop such reforms in their track.

The proposal foresees the establishment of an independent national election commission which would not only take over organizing the elections from the Interior Ministry but would also be responsible for vetting and approving candidates. That function is currently performed by the Guardian Council.

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The reform plan is being prepared by the Expediency Council – an assembly appointed by Khamenei and headed by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is thought to support the proposal.

Akbar Torkan, an adviser to the head of the Expediency Council, said the purpose of the reform is to regain the trust of the people, which was lost in the aftermath of the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. Since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, reformists have lodged several complaints alleging vote fraud and rigging.

Just before last year’s presidential election, Ahmadinejad appointed Sadeq Mahsouli, his campaign manager in 2005, as his interior minister. The opposition believes that widespread vote fraud took place in that election.

Currently, the Guardian Council – comprising six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary and elected by parliament – vets anyone who wants to run for president, the Majlis (parliament), or the Assembly of Experts. Only after the council finds them in compliance with the political and ideological standards set by the state are they allowed to run.

In the past, the Guardian Council has disqualified several reformist candidates. Before the 2008 parliamentary elections, out of 1,700 candidates in Teheran, 890 were disqualified.

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IN LAST year’s presidential election, the Guardian Council openly threw its support behind Ahmadinejad.

Changing the election law has been one of the main demands of the opposition. Former President Mohammad Khatami, regarded as a reformer, said in a speech in January, “The way elections are held and their process has major problems which results in the people’s loss of trust.”

Opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi in February called for a referendum to be held on the role of the Guardian Council, hoping to reduce its influence. Any diminution in the Guardian Council’s role would ultimately reduce the supreme leader’s power.

However, other prominent critics of the government have not yet taken a stance on the electoral reform proposal. It’s somewhat unclear who actually is pressing for election reform.

Reports that electoral law changes were under consideration first came to light when Hossein Shariatmadari, a representative of the supreme leader, denounced the proposal in a newspaper article, saying it represented “the continuation of the opposition’s sedition” and “bypassing the Guardian Council and a violation of the constitution.”

Within hours of the publication of Shariatmadari’s remarks, the secretary of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezai, who himself is a proponent of the plan, said, “The proposal to revise the electoral law has been undertaken by the Expediency Council upon a direct order from the leadership.”

Khamenei has left people guessing about his position.

But Ruhollah Hosseinian, a hardline member of the Iranian parliament, said he’s sure lawmakers would never approve an electoral reform package. “Without a doubt this proposal will not be approved,” he said.

Gholam Hossein Elham, a member of the Guardian Council who is also a close ally of Ahmadinejad, made clear his objections to such reforms.


“This proposal is in line with the seditious green coup plot. Hashemi has always sought to bypass the Guardian Council,” he said. “Not only will the Majlis not approve this proposal, but the leader will also reject it.”

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the electoral law has been modified at least 40 times. Most of the changes have been made to benefit the party in power at the time.

Former Ahmadinejad intelligence and interior ministers were the ones who first proposed amending the current electoral law and provided the Expediency Council with justification to undertake the proposal.

No one, however, anticipated that their suggestion for minor alternations in the election law would lead to wholesale revisions.

The writer is an Iranian journalist based in Paris.
– The Institute for War & Peace Reporting/MCT

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