Incorporating the Expediency Council into the country’s lawmaking process is evidence of the leader’s greater control over the lawmaking process through more diverse mechanisms. The powers of Members of Parliament have once again been reduced through a letter from the leader of the Islamic Republic. The letter from Ayatollah Khamenei, read in Parliament by parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani on May 11, incorporated the Expediency Council into the process of lawmaking while diminishing Parliament’s independence in the process.
The letter basically alters one of Parliament’s internal regulations and obligates it to provide a copy of each new bill to the Expediency Council to be examined by the “Supervisory Commission” of the Expediency Council. Should the commission find any provision in violation of the constitution or the Sharia, it is to inform Parliament. Parliament has the right to consider the objection or to pass the law without affecting any change and forward it to the Guardian Council for final approval. As it makes its decision, however, the Guardian Council is obliged to consider the objections of the Expediency Council.
The head of Parliament has issued a directive to the various commissions of the Parliament, saying they need to consider the advisory recommendations of the Expediency Council, which according to Ali Larijani, is not by nature obligatory but is aimed at providing “rational guidance.”
Higher than a Senate
Little opposition was expressed about the reduction of parliamentary authority. Ali Motahri and Elias Naderan were the only MPs to express official opposition to it. In the parliamentary session of Monday May 12, Motahari said the directive was the first step in transforming the Expediency Council into a body more powerful than a senate, adding that the new instructions will “limit the lawmaking authority of Parliament.” Elias Naderan directed his protests at Ali Larijani, saying the involvement of a commission of the Expediency Council in lawmaking was “a catastrophic loss of power” for parliament.
Larijani attempted to calm protests, saying: “If we comply with the general policies of the leader and the Sharia, we need not look at it as a restriction but rather as an enhancement of our actions.” He then urged the protesting MPs to realize that if they do not consider the recommendations of the Expediency Council, then one way or another the Guardian Council will consider them anyway and reject bills that contain violations.”
The Expediency Council is no Longer a Ceremonial Body
The new role given to the Expediency Council by the leader will ultimately transform the council from a ceremonial body into one with real powers in the system. Up to now the Expediency Council role was to merely consider disputed legislation as opposed to making a ruling on every bill before its passing.
Council Chairman Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani had specifically asked for this role and is now highly satisfied with having been granted it. The move marks a reconciliation between Ayatollah Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani. Following the 2009 election protests, Ayatollah Rafsanjani’s stance and his criticism of the Ahmadinejad administration revealed a serious rift between the two top figures of the Islamic Republic. The support for election protesters expressed by the children of Ayatollah Rafsanjani was another reason for his isolation from the Islamic Republic centres of power.
A pre-emptive Scheme for the Coming Parliament
A more significant objective of the leader of the Islamic Republic in giving the Expediency Council greater power is to gain greater control over the legislature. He is coming up with more mechanisms to make sure the next Parliament, in which Hassan Rohani supporters are trying to gain more seats, remains under his control in the absence of his extremist conservative supporters. Therefore, new bills, in addition to passing the fortified obstacle of the Guardian Council, will also have to clear the hurdle presented by the Expediency Council.
While it is true that the leadership of the Expediency Council is now aligned with the Rohani administration, its membership does include many figures who obey Ayatollah Khamenei and will do their best to satisfy him. In this way, the new role of the Expediency Council is not actually a political advantage granted to Ayatollah Rafsanjani but instead a build-up of a new field of influence for the leader.
In 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei in effect strengthened his own influence on Parliament by dictating the new directive to “supervise” MPs, saying: “You must have a mechanism to supervise Members of Parliament who abuse their position so they can be held accountable.” The bill was approved in 2011, and Mehdi Karroubi, the opposition leader under house arrest who had served as Parliament Speaker in the past, referred to it as “the squandering of our 100-year history of constitutionalism in Iran.”
Now the incorporation of the Expediency Council into lawmaking is far more profound than the early analysis suggested: it does not merely give an advantage to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, it is another step toward solidifying the leader’s control over the lawmaking process in the country.
[translated from the Persian Original]