Since 1979, Iran has a constitution based on the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s idea of a state based on religious grounds, a state of God (theocracy). Islamic law, sharia, forms the basis of Iranian law and religious courts. Religious hierarchy of power has the decisive influence. There are also elected political bodies, although Iran does not have democratic elections in the Western sense. Civil rights are severely limited and violations of human rights are widespread.
This “state of God” lacks equality in the world. When, after the 1979 revolution, Khomeini advocated that all decisive power should lie with a “supreme spiritual leader,” it was a strange thought even for several leading Shia Muslim Ayatollahs. To directly interfere with politics was considered contrary to religion. In order to consolidate power, the regime has pursued different-thinking groups, often as brutally as during the Shah’s time (see Modern History).
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Iran for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
In the “state of God”, power is based on the highest religious leader (vali-e faqih). Since 1989, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held this post. The leader is to be seen as a substitute for the twelfth imam who disappeared in the 8th century (see Religion). No important decisions in any area are valid until vali-e faqih has said his. He is the commander-in-chief and holds all leading positions in the judiciary, state media and the Medlar Council (see below). At the same time, he is not a pure one-ruler. Although Khamenei has the final say, his role is largely to mediate between various interest groups: politicians, theologians, military, academics and businessmen, in an effort to achieve unanimity. Iran is not a dictatorship in the ordinary sense; the country has been described as something of a political oligarchy.
The highest leader is elected by the Expert Assembly, who can also formally dismiss him. The expert assembly consists of 86 scribes who are appointed in general elections every eight years.
Short for IR by Abbreviationfinder, Iran does not have democratic elections in the Western sense. In the run-up to general elections, the so-called Guardian Council (shura-e-nigahban) may reject candidates for the presidential post, parliament and the Assembly of Experts who are not considered religiously knowledgeable or pure. Ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections, the Guardian Council disqualified just over half of those who wanted to run for office. Prior to the 2017 presidential election, only six of the more than 1,600 who signed up were approved. Women have consistently been rejected as candidates in the presidential election. (By contrast, the Islamic Republic has had several female vice presidents.)
The Guardian Council also has the task of examining whether Parliament’s legislation is in line with the Constitution and Islamic law. The Guardian Council has twelve members – six scribes, mullahs, appointed by the supreme leader and six lawyers nominated by Iran’s highest prosecutor and approved by Parliament. Half the council is renewed every three years.
The executive power lies with a president, who is elected for four years in general elections. For victory in the first round, at least 50 percent of the votes are required, otherwise a second round will be held between the two main candidates. The president can be re-elected once, but must then waive at least one term. The president is also entitled to appoint the government, which must be approved by Parliament. Furthermore, there is a first vice president and several vice presidents in charge of various areas of affairs appointed by the president.
Directly subordinate to the highest leader is the Revolutionary Guard, which is a semi-military force and a intelligence service and has also been developed into a huge business empire (see Finance).
Every fourth year, the 290 members of Parliament, the Islamic Advisory Assembly (Majlis-e Shura-e Islami) are elected. The voting age was previously as low as 15 years, but it was increased to 18 years before the election in 2008. One voter votes on several candidates, corresponding to the number of seats allocated to the constituency. The candidates who received at least 25 percent of the vote will be elected, and any remaining mandates will be allocated in a second round of elections. Five seats in Parliament are dedicated to recognized religious minorities: one for Zoroastrians, one for Jews and three for Christian groups (see Religion). Majlis has the right to submit its own legislative proposals, reject proposed ministers and dismiss ministers. Full freedom of expression should prevail in the House, but outspoken supporters of reform have been prosecuted.
An institution tasked with mediating disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council was formed in 1988, the Council for the Determination of Efficiency, or the Medlar Council. It is also an advisory body for the senior leader, who himself appoints the majority of the approximately 40 members. Since 2005, the Council has also – formally more than actually – been tasked with monitoring the government and its bodies. The Council has an overweight of Conservative members and has most often supported the Guardian Council’s views.
In 1989, the Supreme National Security Council was formed to protect the country’s vital interests and the Islamic revolution. The Council is led by the President. Its chief, who has the title of secretary, was previously responsible for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program (see Foreign Policy and Defense). However, following President Rohani’s accession in 2013, responsibility for the negotiations was transferred to the Foreign Ministry.
In Iran, there are two political and economic centers of power outside the state agencies: the merchants of the big cities’ bazaars, the bazaari, and the country’s large charity foundations, the bonyad. The traders are conservative and opposed to economic reform. They support the conservative leaders who give them economic benefits. The charity foundations control large parts of Iran’s business (see Finance). They are strong opponents of a more free economy that would entail competition from abroad.
Iran consists of 30 provinces led by governors appointed by the Home Office. Local government is exercised by elected councils in about 900 cities and 34,000 villages. The first local elections were not held until 1999, when President Khatami wanted to strengthen political participation at the local level.
Political parties that do not oppose Iran’s religious rule were allowed in 1998 after a 13-year ban. However, Iran does not have party politics in the Western sense. The parties must register with the authorities and be closely monitored. There are over 100 parties, but in elections the candidates participate as individuals. More important than individual parties are the broad coalitions that arise in connection with parliamentary elections, often under new names.
There are two main groups in Iranian politics: conservatives (Muslims who are religiously Orthodox) and reformists. However, on both sides there are different phalanges and the political landscape is difficult to understand. Many politicians also refer to themselves as independent.
The conservative camp dominates. The followers call themselves English “principalists”, those who follow the principles of the revolution. They have controlled Parliament since 2004. That year many reformists were barred from running, which led to some boycotting the election. After the 2012 election, about two-thirds of the members belong to the Orthodox group. However, the winner of the 2013 presidential election, Hassan Rohani, is not orthodox. He was supported by the reform side, but is regarded as a moderate middle politician as soon as possible.
After the disputed presidential elections in 2009, the opposition has otherwise been hard pressed. Many leaders – including former parliamentarians and ministers – have been arrested and banned from participating in political life. Former presidential candidates and opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as Moussavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, are in house arrest and are essentially cut off from the outside world. At least two leading reformist parties have been banned.
Moussavi’s campaign color before the election was green and the protest wave that arose after the election came to be called the Green Movement. In 2014, a new reform-oriented party was called the Voice of Iranians, which gathered former members of the Green Movement, among others. It was said to have been the first time in several years that a new reform-friendly party was formed in the country, and this was under the leadership of Sadegh Kharazi, who advised President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). The movement does not have a prominent role, however, the protest movement of 2009 has come to serve as a role model for peaceful demonstrations.
The recognized religious minorities are guaranteed one or two seats in Parliament. Ethnic minorities like the Kurds are not given their own mandate. Their most important parts are in exile. The Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iran and the Kurdish branch of the Communist Party Komaleh had previously fought armed resistance. The most militant group today, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (Pjak), began carrying out armed attacks against the regime in 2005. The group, which in 2009 was placed on the US “terrorist list”, is believed to have close contacts with the Turkish Kurds’ movement PKK. In May 2014, a number of leading representatives of Pjak announced that they had formed a new movement called the Organization for a Free and Democratic Society in Eastern Kurdistan (Codes) who want to resolve the conflict in the region through dialogue with the government.
In the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in the south-east, the Sunni Muslim group of soldiers (Jundallah) has repeatedly attacked and killed Revolutionary Guard soldiers.
The most well-known resistance group is the Islamic Left Movement, the People’s Mujahedin (Mujahedin-e khalq, MKO or MEK), who participated in the revolt against the Shah. The movement has in exile gathered several smaller groups in the organization ‘s National Resistance Council (NCR). In 1981, the people’s mujahedin established a military base in Iraq for the armed struggle, and it has an unknown number of members inside Iran. The group was classified in 1999 by the US government as a terrorist organization but it is supported by many US politicians. The EU also labeled the People’s Mujahedin as a terrorist group in 2002, but the decision was overturned by the EU court seven years later.
The president in the fallout against Israel
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes statements about Israel that provoke sharp international criticism. In a public speech, he is said to have said “Israel must be wiped off the map”, but some experts prefer the more accurate translation “the regime that occupies Jerusalem must disappear from the world’s history”.
The newly elected President Ahmadinejad takes office.
Claws in the Kurdish region
In Mahabad, in the province of Kordestan, riots erupt after a Kurdish activist was killed, and during the riots another at least 17 people were shot dead by the Revolutionary Guard. During this time, the Kurdish group PJAK performs occasional attacks from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ahmadinejad is elected president
In the second round of elections a week later, Ahmadinejad won by 62 percent of the vote against 36 percent for Rafsanjani.
Two more candidates in the presidential election
In the first round, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani receives 21 percent of the vote and Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with 19 percent. Reformist Mehdi Karroubi gets 17 percent.
Six presidential candidates are approved
Over a thousand candidates register to take part in the presidential election, but after the Guardian Council’s usual scrutiny, only six remain. The leading reformists are rejected, but after the intervention of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Council approves two of them.