In Iran’s complex and intertwined political system, one truth emerges clear: that the office of the Supreme Leader holds the ultimate authority.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been the Supreme Leader since 1989 after the death of the father of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the Grand Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini. Khamenei’s office has constitutional control over the judicial branch of the government, as well as command of the country’s powerful military.
While the constitution has mandated an 86-member elected Assembly of Experts with the power to appoint and dismiss the Supreme Leader, Khamenei’s authority goes almost unchallenged. The candidates for the Assembly of Experts, who hold office for eight year terms, are vetted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body half of which is directly appointed by the Supreme Leader.
The Guardian Council, as the authority to interpret the constitution, has vetoing power over the legislation passed by the parliament. It is tasked with ensuring the laws passed in the parliament are in accordance with Islam. The Guardian Council also vets the qualification of candidates for presidency and the parliament, most importantly on their “demonstrated belief in Islam, their commitment to the revolution and its ideals. In the lead up to March 2 parliamentary vote, the Guardian Council disqualified nearly 30 per cent of the candidates, among them 35 incumbents.
The 290-member parliament, called the Islamic Consultative Assembly, holds substantially less authority compared to non-elected bodies such as the Guardian Council or the Supreme Leader’s office. It has powers over the government budget, confirmation of cabinet ministers, and questioning of government officials over their performance.
Unlike most systems in the world, the president of Iran, despite being considered the second highest ranking official in the country, has limited powers according to the constitution. Presidential candidates need to be approved by a commission virtually following the Supreme Leader’s orders. Even after election, the president needs to be appointed by the Supreme Leader.The Supreme Leader directly holds control over much of foreign and domestic policy as well as the armed forces and the judiciary. One of the president’s main tasks is setting the country’s economic agenda.
The president’s cabinet is accountable to and is approved by the parliament. But, as recent public confrontations have shown, the Supreme Leader’s office holds sway in appointment and sacking of cabinet members.