Editorial

The presidential elections of June 12, 2009 harmed both to the “Islamic” and “democratic” sides of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Three months after the vote, the crisis is still going on. Democracy is based on a belief in the value of the individual human being, and a further criterion is therefore the extent to which certain basic rights are guaranteed to every citizen.
We have a very special system of governance with many features of democratic countries (holding elections, having political parties and a parliament) and, at the same time some criterions of tyranny regimes. The regime jails opponents, bans magazines and tolerates few challenges.
But it is not a monolithic dictatorship and is best described as an oligarchy with considerable debate and dissent within the elites. After the election understanding the situation has become even more difficult. For Iranians the last elections acted as 9/11 did for Americans in the sense that their perception changed. All the problems began after the unbelievably quick announcement of the outcome of the election. The process of counting votes was central to the crisis. English playwright Tom Stoppard once said that democracy isn’t the voting process, but rather the counting of the votes. Similarly, Stalin once said: «The number of people who participate in the election is not important; the important thing is who counts the votes.»
We can look at democracy in Iran from three different views.

The government view:before and after the revolution, most of the governments in Iran have used democracy as a tactical instrument in order to hide that they believe the right to rule belongs to the government and not to people who are unable to make good decisions. At the time of president Muhammad Khatami some attention was paid to democracy and civil society but the resistance towards him and his cabinet was really strong.
As a matter of fact, the June elections were among the biggest frauds in our history and many believe a martial coup took place. The government used the revolutionary guards, the basij (militia) and other security forces to change the outcome. After the peaceful demonstrations, the suppression started in Tehran and other major cities. Many well-known reformists, journalists, photographers and even ordinary people were arrested. Some were injured or killed in streets and prisons. Some newspapers and websites were banned. The phone lines were restricted. The mobile coverage and text message service was disconnected for along time. Many private and public places were destroyed and people accused of doing it. The prisoners were tortured and forced to confess of being part of a velvet revolution.
Nowadays, the government views democracy as a western instrument for weakening the Islamic revolution and its values. The suppression has become so severe that, contrary to the past 30 years, the government did not let Hashemi Rafsanjani give the sermon on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan. It seems that some serious actions have been undertaken by the basij and the revolutionary guards against groups pro Imam Khomeini. Despite the pressure, Iranians continued their resistance to the government’s oppression.

The citizen’s view:Most Iranians, especially those living in urban areas, the middle class, youth, women, students and intellectuals do believe in democracy and want it as a way of life. One hundred years ago, the primary demand of the nation was to establish a parliament and the people used the symbolic term Adalat-khaneh (House of Justice). A hundred years after the constitutional revolution, Iranians still long for justice and democracy. Although the leaders of the green movement like Mussavi, Karrubi and Khatami want change within the framework of law, nowadays the opposition not only challenges the outcome of the election but also the leader and the regime. For the first time, the supreme leader was challenged by large demonstrations in the streets of Tehran. The protestors use every opportunity to show their objections, not only in the streets but also on the roofs of their homes chanting “Allah Akbar” (God is the great) and “Down with the dictator”.
Due to the influence of globalization, far more nations have become familiar with democracy. Of course, it doesn’t mean everyone has the same idea about democracy and about what happened in the election. Many people, like those residing in rural areas, the poor and those dependant on the regime believe what they see on the national television and the governmental media every day. I mean, at least those who voted for Ahmadinejad have a different view about democracy, freedom and equality.

Constitutional law:There is no doubt that democracy is based on law.  The IranianConstitution is a curious hybrid of theocratic, democratic and authoritarian elements. Articles 1, 2 and 56 do vest sovereignty in God, but articles 6, 62, 100 and 114 refer to popular elections for the presidency, the parliament and city councils. Section 3 (Articles 19-42) guarantee, among other things, freedom of belief, expression, press, association and parties, public gatherings and marches, equality before the law, human dignity, denial the discrimination and privileges,; protection of ethnic minorities, forbid torture, state the presumption of innocence, the dignity of the arrested, the right to a process and the right of private property as well as social rights like social security and health care. These articles are similar to human rights declaration articles.  Some articles like the ones on the Guardian council and the leader are unique and controversial. Section 6 (articles 91-99) is about the Guardian council whose members are elected for six years.

According to the constitution, the Guardian council has a vast range of responsibilities. The parliament doesn’t hold any legal status without the Guardian council in existence. Legislations approved by the parliament must be sent to the Guardian council which decides if the legislation is incompatible with Islam and the constitution. In case of incompatibility the Guardian council returns the legislation to the parliament to be reviewed. The guardian council also has the responsibility of supervising the election of the Assembly of experts, of the president and of the parliament, as well the direct recourse to popular opinion and referenda. This supervision begins from deciding whether or not the nominees are qualified and it continues until the end of elections. It is very common for them to disqualify candidates without any reason and to avoid answering the objections. Interpretation of the constitution is vested with the Guardian council.

Another part of the constitution is Section Eight (Articles 107-112) on the “Leader”. He is recognized as the first person in the country and has a huge power according to the constitution. According to article 57 the power of the government is vested in the legislator, the judiciary and the executive powers that function under the supervision of the absolute religious leader and the leadership of the umma in accordance with the forthcoming articles of constitution.
The leader’s duties and responsibilities, specified in Article 110, include delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system, issuing decrees for national referenda, resolving differences between the three parts of government and regulation of their relations, control over the armed forces, the ability to declare war, appointment-dismissal-resignation of the judiciary, heads of media, the army,the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the religious men of the Guardian council.
Another article lays out conditions under which the Supreme Leader can be removed but that procedure is hardly democratic or transparent. The strange thing about this article is that the qualification of the experts is decided bythe Guardian council and this shows the cycle is defective. On the one hand the religious leader and a powerful Guardian council are recognized bythe constitution. On the other hand, thereis a democratic side in the presidential and parliamentary elections. This illustrates that we have a special kind of governance neither tyrannical nor democratic. Although the government used its force to eliminate democracy and the people’s will, the trend of democratization keeps getting stronger and the civil society has become a powerful element in building Iran’s futur.

GUALA