Is Khamenei Aiming to Replace the Presidential System?

Several members of parliament are contemplating to write a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proposing to amend the country’s constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government.

“The letter will be based on the Supreme Leader’s comments made six years ago, on the subject”, the parliament’s website cited Ezzatollah Yousefian Molla, the representative of the city of Amol as saying on October 2.

Radio Farda reports that on October 16, 2011, Khamenei said in a speech that in a distant future, if it is felt that the parliamentary system can better elect the executive officials; there is no problem in changing the current format.”

A month later, The Economist reported Khamenei threatening to the Iran’s president at that time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that he may abolish the presidency altogether, replacing it with an honorary post elected by members of parliament rather than directly by the people. It was a pointed reminder that the supreme leader has the final say in the midst of the feud that become increasingly bitter and public.

The idea of eliminating the post of president, according to Mehr News Agency, was first suggested in September 2011 by Hamidreza Katouzian, an Iranian MP, who said that “since the country is “blessed” with the supervision of the Velayat Faqih [guardianship of the jurist – or the supreme leader]there is no need for a president in this country.”

Now, comments made by Molla have highlighted the possibility of amending the Islamic Republic Constitution and bringing in a parliamentary government system.

“Based on the current system of government in Iran and its related rules and regulations, the parliament’s right for an overall supervision cannot be implemented. Implementing that right means confronting the government,” Molla insists.

The legislators are still undecided as to whether to send a letter directly to the Supreme Leader or wait for him to deliver the idea to the president. According to Molla, changing the constitution should take place when a president is serving his second term so it would not be interpreted as a plot to overthrow the president. A proposal to eliminate the post of a directly elected president, will also eliminate the inherent duality of having an executive with popular mandate and a supreme leader, claiming religious legitimacy.

In the first eleven years of the Islamic Republic, the top executive position was held by the prime minister. In 1990 the Islamic republic’s constitution was amended to eliminate the prime minister’s position and place the president at the top of the executive branch.

The last Islamic Republic Prime Minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi, (1981 to 1989) came out after twenty years of silence as a reformist candidate for the 2009 presidential election, challenging the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In suspicious circumstances Ahmadinejad was announced as the winner. Mousavi and millions of people protested and cried foul. This led to the creation of the Green Movement that kept Iran restless for months. Mousavi was detained in February 2011 and has since been under house arrest.