Document Type : Research Paper
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Imam Khomeini International University, Qazvin, Iran
MA in Political Science, Imam Khomeini International University, Qazvin, Iran
Holding elections in democratic societies is the most obvious symbol of popular participation in the right to self-determination. According to Article 6 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the affairs of the country must be governed by citizen participation in the election of the President, members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e shorā-ye eslāmī, the Parliament) deputies and the like. In 2016, the current Supreme Leader (Rahbar), Ayatollah Khamenei announced the general policies of the elections and signaled the implementation of paragraph 1 of Article 110 of the Constitution that were determined after consultation with the Expediency Discernment Council of the System (Majma-e tashkhis-e maslehat-e nezām), which was established in 1988 to resolve conflicts between the Guardian Council (Shorā-ye negahbān) and the Parliament. These efforts show the importance of the elections in the IRI’s political system to ensure the rights of the electors and citizens involvement in politics by providing them with opportunities to influence public policy by their votes.The Guardian Council is one of the IRI’s supervisory bodies, which was created on 20 February 1980 by the decree of Imam Khomeini, the founder of the IRI and its first Supreme Leader.The Guardian Council consists of six jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists who are appointed through the nomination of the head of the Judiciary and the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (ICA).
According to Article 99 of the IRI’s Constitution, the Guardian Council is given the responsibility of monitoring referendums and the elections for the Assembly of Experts of the Leadership (Majles-e khobregān-e rahbari), the presidency, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. The GuardianCouncil’s crucial task is to oversee the entire election process including scrutinizingthe qualifications of the candidates, and so on.The electionmonitoring authority must have the appropriate characteristics required for rigorously and utmostly safeguarding the integrity of the election, and the rights of voters and candidates. The principles of the independence of a supervisory authority from the executive branch, and its impartiality are among the essential features that the Guardian Council as the main election monitoring authority should possess. The twin objectives of this research are to contribute to the discussions of constitutional rights and the issue of election supervision in the IRI, and to evaluate one of the fundamental ambiguities or doubts in the country's electoral system. One of the issues raised is that according to the clarity of the principles of the constitution, especially Article 60, which describes the key officials of the executive branch and the mechanism of appointing the members of the Guardian Council, the degree of the independence of the election monitoring authority from the main components of the executive branch is insufficient and flawed. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not provide a clear definition of the executive branch. However, the issue of executive authorities in the country has been mentioned and explained in Articles 57, 60, 110 and 113 of the Constitution. According to Article 60, "the functions of the executive, except in the matters that are directly placed under the jurisdiction of the Leadership by the Constitution, are to be exercised by the president and the ministers." Thus, Article 60 explicitly states that the exercise of executive power through the Supreme Leader is more effective than the powers of the president and the ministers. From this point of view, the IRI’s executive branch has two pillars, one of which is its leadership position led by the president and the cabinet. Article 113 declares that "after the office of Leadership, the President is the highest official in the country. His is the responsibility for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with (the office of) the Leadership." Article 113 twice explicitly mentions the position of the Supreme Leader as an important pillar of the executive branch in the country, once when it stipulates "after the Supreme Leader" and for the second time when it specifies, "except in matters directly related to the Supreme Leader".
It is clear that the IRI’s election monitoring authority is independent only from one pillar of the executive branch (i.e., the president and the cabinet), but it is not independent from the other important and influential pillar of the executive branch. The impartiality of the supervisory authority could not be assured in all circumstances because of the fact that it somehow owes its existence to the second powerful pillar of the executive branch. The research questions to be addressed in this article are: 1. To what extent is the Guardian Council, as the main authority for monitoring elections in the country, independent from the executive branch? 2. What are the effective solutions to eliminate the shortcomings of the process of monitoring electoral system in Iran? In the hypothesis, it is asserted that the integrity of the election and the observance of the rights of the voters and candidates are influenced by the nature of the election monitoring authority, particularly its independence from the executive branch and its impartiality. For hypothesis testing, the authors use the method of qualitative conceptual content analysis to study official documents such as the Constitution, and opinions of different legal experts as well as the views expressed by researchers who have analyzed the shortcomings of the country’s election process. The findings of the present study will contribute to the discussions of some of the inadequacies of the country's electoral system, and the efforts aimed at the reform of the electoral process needed for political development in the country.