|A comparative study of parliamentary elections in Iran and other regional countries||
On the eve of the 9th parliamentary election to elect members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis)
The upcoming parliamentary election in Iran, which is scheduled to be held on March 2, is the 30th time in the history of the Islamic Revolution that the people have cast their votes to determine their own destiny.
Over the past 33 years, the Islamic system has successfully held 29 elections, namely, 10 presidential elections, eight parliamentary elections, four elections to select members of the Assembly of Experts, three elections to select the members of Islamic Councils in the cities and villages, two referendums on the Constitution, one election to designate constitutional experts, and one referendum to determine the political system of the country. Thus, the parliamentary election on March 2 will be the 30th democratic election held since the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979.
Position of Majlis
The Majlis is the main pillar of the legislative branch in Iran. Legislation ratified by the Majlis must be approved by the Guardian Council, and then the administration and the Judiciary are notified. The parliament is totally independent of other branches of government, and no one has the right to dissolve the parliament.
As stipulated in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in articles 62 and 63, Majlis Shoraye Eslami (Islamic Parliament of Iran) is constituted by the people’s representatives elected directly and by secret ballot. The term of membership of the Islamic parliament of Iran is four years. The election for each term must take place before the end of the preceding term, so that the country is never without a parliament.
The parliament can dismiss cabinet ministers through no-confidence votes and can impeach the president for misconduct in office.
The Zoroastrians and Jews are each represented by one MP. The Assyrian and Chaldean Christians jointly elect one representative, and Armenian Christians in the north and the south each elect one representative. According to the provisions of the Constitution, the Islamic parliament of Iran is currently composed of 290 members.
Over 48,288,799 Iranian voters are eligible to cast their ballots in the 9th parliamentary election. Out of this figure, 3,960,000 voters will be eligible to cast ballots for the first time. Of the about 75 million people of Iran, all men and women over 18 years of age having a valid ID card are eligible to vote, and there is no other precondition such as having special ballot cards.
During the registration period, 5,405 people signed up at the Interior Ministry to stand as candidates, and 3,444 of them were approved to compete as candidates for 290 seats in the Majlis. Iran’s Guardian Council has taken into consideration all parties and groups in the vetting of candidates. Nearly 10 percent of the vetted candidates are women. Based on a bill ratified in the current Majlis and endorsed by the Guardian Council, the candidates should have a master’s degree or a qualification that is equivalent to a master’s degree.
The candidates must be over 30 years old and not older than 74. The number of polling stations in Iran is 47,665. Campaigning for the parliamentary election officially started on February 23 and ended at 8:00 on March 1.
The voter turnout in the previous eight parliamentary elections ranged between 51 to 71 percent. The Interior Ministry’s own figures indicated a national turnout of 52 percent and more than 30 percent in Tehran in the parliamentary election of 2008, which is roughly equivalent to the 2004 turnout. An average of 8 to 16 female candidates have been selected by voters in the previous parliamentary elections.
Election campaign in Tehran
According to the figures released by Tehran’s provincial office, 5,400,000 people are eligible to vote and 699 candidates will compete in Tehran Province. In the capital city of Tehran, which is the political nerve center of the country and the largest constituency, 555 candidates will compete for 30 parliament seats.
Many of the candidates in Tehran have come to the election without any affiliation to political groups or parties. However, Iran’s two major political parties, principlists and reformists, have both formed coalitions to gain more votes in the upcoming election. The main lists released by the principlist bloc are the United Front of Principlists, the Resistance Front, the Voice of the Nation, the Resilience Front, the Insight and Islamic Awakening Front, and the Supporters of Velayat. Reformists have also formed their coalitions, including Mardomsalari (Democracy) Front, the Labor Coalition, and the Popular Front of Reformists.
Candidates are allowed to be on various lists, and there are no restrictions in this regard according to the law. In the previous rounds, most of the selected representatives for the Tehran constituency were members of political coalitions, and independent candidates had little chance to win parliamentary seats.
Elections in other regional countries
The Islamic Republic of Iran is located in a region where most of the countries are either politically unable to hold elections or are ruled by monarchs and ruling families. Parliaments in these countries are mostly symbolic and have no impact on the political life of the people. A short review of election processes in these countries helps us better understand the importance of democratic structures in the region.
The country has been ruled by an absolute monarchy since 1932, and there are no political parties, elected parliaments, or referendums. Saudi Arabia is under the full control of the Al Saud family and remains the only Arab nation where no national elections have ever been held since its creation. In 1992, King Fahd established the first Consultative Council. The only function of the council is to consult the King on national security and military issues. Members of the council are directly appointed by the King every four years.
Since 2005, people have been invited to cast their ballots to decide on 50 percent of the seats of local councils. Only 1,080,000 voters participated in the second round of the elections in 2011. According to the King's decree, women will have the right to participate in the third round of the elections in 2015. The local councils have no executive power in Saudi Arabia, and their sole function is to give recommendations to the municipalities.
The United Arab Emirates
The UAE's political system, which is composed of several intricately connected governing bodies, is based on its 1971 Constitution. As a federation of seven monarchies, whose rulers retain absolute power within their emirates, but with a UAE president, it is neither a constitutional monarchy nor a republic.
The legislature is the Federal National Council, which consists of 40 members drawn from all the emirates. Half are appointed by the rulers of the constituent emirates and the other half are indirectly elected to serve two-year terms. The first indirect elections took place in 2006. The council scrutinizes and amends proposed legislation but cannot prevent it from becoming law.
The second round of elections was held in 2011 in the wake of the recent developments in the Arab world, in which only 130,000 people of the 8 million eligible voters were selected by the government to participate in the election. Only one third of the selected people cast ballots.
Qatar has an unelected, monarchic, emirate-type government. There are no democratic institutions or elections, and power is assumed on a hereditary basis. The discretionary system of law is totally controlled by the Emir. The country has a parliament that is composed of ordinary citizens representing every populated area in Qatar.
The current Qatari parliament is unelected in nature.
In the wake of the recent developments in the Arab world, the government aims to project a more pious image ahead of the country’s first election of a royal advisory body in 2013.
Bahrain is a Constitutional monarchy headed by the King. Based on the Constitution, three branches of government are supposed to act independently. However, they are under the direct control of the King.
Bahrain has a bicameral National Assembly (al-Jamiyah al-Watani) consisting of the Shura Council (Majlis Al-Shura) with 40 seats and the Council of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nuwab) with 40 seats. The 40 members of the Shura Council are appointed by the King. In the Council of Representatives, the 40 members are elected by absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies to serve four-year terms. The Shura Council has the authority to revoke the ratifications of the Council of Representatives.
So far, four rounds of elections have been held in Bahrain, in 1973, 2002, 2006, 2010. However, based on the election law, the majority Shia population can only have 18 seats in the parliament. The people again protested against this during the recent popular uprising, and 18 Shia lawmakers resigned their posts. The election was also boycotted by the people.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Legislative power is vested in the Emir and the National Assembly in accordance with the Constitution. The Emir of Kuwait can dissolve the National Assembly and call a national election, or, in cases of national emergency, can dismiss the National Assembly outright and assume supreme authority over the country.
The National Assembly consists of 50 elected members, who are chosen in elections held every four years. Any amendment to the Constitution can be proposed by the Emir, but it needs to be approved by more than two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly before being implemented.
There have been several conflicts between the emir, the government, and the National Assembly over various policies. The National Assembly was suspended from 1976 to 1981, from 1986 to 1991, and from May 1999 to July 1999, due to irresolvable conflicts between some members of the government and the Assembly. The Assembly was dissolved again in May 2009 by the emir, leading to the resignation of the prime minister. Nationwide elections were held on May 16, 2009.
Until 2005, women had no right to participate in the parliamentary elections. In the elections on May 16, 2009, 16 female candidates contested for 50 seats for a four-year term. Four female candidates won seats and became Kuwait's first female lawmakers.
Oman is an absolute monarchy. The head of state and government is the hereditary sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. He rose to power after overthrowing his father, Said bin Taimur, in a palace coup in 1970.
In the early 1990s, the sultan instituted an elected council, the Consultative Assembly of Oman. It had advisory roles until 2011, when Sultan Qaboos decided to give legislative powers to the council, allowing the newly elected parliament to question ministers, propose laws, and suggest changes to government regulations.
The Council of Oman is a bicameral parliament, made up of members of the State Council and Consultation Council as stipulated in Article 58 of the Basic Law of the State. It is considered to be the main parliament in Oman. It assists the government in drawing up the general policies of the state. The Council meets, at the request of Sultan Qaboos, to study and discuss matters raised by him, making all its decisions on the basis of a majority vote. Sultan Qaboos addresses all the members of this Council on an annual basis. There are 15 women members (14 of whom are in the State Council) among the 167 members of the parliament.
Oman's State Consultative Council, established in 1981, consists of 55 appointed representatives of government, the private sector, and regional interests.
Until recent years, only a limited number of citizens were allowed to participate in elections. There is no active political party in the country.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with an appointed government. The reigning monarch is the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The King exercises his executive authority through the prime minister and the Council of Ministers or cabinet. The King signs and executes all laws.
The parliament consists of two Chambers: The Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwab) and the Senate (Majlis al-Ayan, literally Assembly of Notables). The Senate has 60 senators, all of whom are directly appointed by the King, while the Chamber of Deputies/House of Representatives has 120 elected members representing 12 constituencies.
The Constitution does not provide a strong system of checks and balances within which the Jordanian parliament can assert its role in relationship to the monarch. During the suspension of parliament between 2001 and 2003, the scope of King Abdullah II's power was demonstrated with the passing of 110 temporary laws. Two of these laws dealt with election law and were seen to reduce the power of parliament.
Senators have terms of four years and are appointed by the King and can be reappointed.
The recent amendment to the Constitution of Syria provides a better position for parliament in the country. The People's Council (Majlis al-Sha'ab) is Syria's legislative authority. It has 250 members elected for a four-year term in 15 multi-seat constituencies. The presidential candidate is appointed by the parliament and needs to be confirmed for a seven-year term in a referendum.
Parliamentary elections were held in Syria on April 22, 2007. According to results released on April 26, 2007, the National Progressive Front won 169 seats, while independents won the other 81 seats. Turnout was 56.12 percent of the 11.96 million eligible voters, and 30 female candidates were elected, exactly as many as in 2003.
A constitutional referendum was held in Syria on February 26, 2012. The new Constitution would set a limit of two seven-year terms for future presidents and also removed Article 8 of the Constitution of Syria, which stated, "The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party leads the state and society." The text eliminates the Ba'ath party monopoly over the political life of Syria.
In 2003, Saddam Hussein was forcibly removed from power during the Iraq war. In March 2004, a governing council set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority signed an interim constitution, which called for the election of a transitional National Assembly no later than the end of January 2005.
Elections for the transitional National Assembly (Al Jamiya-Al-Wataniya) took place on January 30, 2005. The 275-member National Assembly was a parliament created under the Transitional Law during the occupation of Iraq. It was the first free election in Iraq's history, with a fair representation of all groups.
The new law has increased the size of the council from 275 to 325 members, equal to one seat per 100,000 citizens, as stipulated in the Constitution of Iraq.
Under the permanent Constitution approved on October 15, 2005, legislative authority is vested in two bodies, the Council of Representatives and the Council of Union.
The Council of Representatives of Iraq has the same name in Arabic (Majlis al-Nuwab) as the main elected body of representatives in Iraq. It is currently composed of 325 seats and meets in Baghdad inside the International Zone (Green Zone).
The Council of Union or Federation Council (Majlis al-Ittihad) will consist of representatives from Iraq's regions. Its precise composition and responsibilities are not defined in the Constitution and will be determined by the Council of Representatives.
Other countries of the region
In other countries neighboring Iran, such as Afghanistan, elections have been held under the control of the occupation forces, and the tightened security measures adopted by officials have prevented sound elections from being held for parliament.
Pakistan and Turkey both have powerful parliaments, and there is always considerable competition for parliamentary seats in these countries. However, the presidents of the two countries have the authority to dissolve parliament and military officials often interfere in politics.
The latest developments in the Arab world and the popular uprisings in certain countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya have paved the way for greater participation by the people and political parties in politics and the establishment of parliaments, which can have a positive impact on the destiny of the people.
Subscribe to our RSS feed to stay in touch and receive all of TT updates right in your feed reader