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Iran's Pivotal Election

06 Sep 2011 22:17Comments

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The Iran Primer today begins a series on parliamentary elections now scheduled for March 2012. The following is an excerpt from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) report on the Iranian electoral system -- its origins, framework, and elected bodies.

[ feature ] The Islamic Republic of Iran's hybrid political system...encompasses both elements of democracy and theocracy. The constitution blends the liberal notion of popular sovereignty with the principle of velayat-e faqih, or rule of the jurisconsult. It establishes appointed institutions dominated by the clergy, such as the office of the Leader and the Guardian Council, while stipulating four tiers of popularly elected institutions: president, parliament, local councils, and the Assembly of Experts.

The Islamic Republic has held 29 elections since its inception in 1979. Legislative, presidential, Assembly of Experts, local council elections and referendums have provided the electorate with a platform to exercise political participation. The degree to which this platform is perceived to be democratic, free and fair is intensely debated -- particularly in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election.

Yet, it is impossible to evaluate the nature and the outcome of any particular election in Iran without accurate knowledge and proper understanding of the country's electoral system. For example, the century-old precedent of a "litmus test" for candidates in Iran's electoral system, which in the absence of a full-fledged party system served to filter out unqualified nominees, has become an instrument for political exclusion under the Islamic Republic. Vague candidate eligibility criteria set out in the law for presidential, parliamentary and local council elections coupled with a multi-layered vetting process have led to the rejection of thousands of candidates and contributed to limited political pluralism.

The Iranian electoral system, in parallel to the numerous transmutations of the Islamic Republic, has undergone tremendous change over the past three decades. Estimates suggest that over 40 amendments and modifications have changed the rules of the electoral game in Iran's post-Revolution era. In the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election, Iran faced its most significant crisis since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In 2012, Iranians will go to the polls for the first time since the 2009 disputed elections to elect the members of the 9th Majles. The upcoming elections will be a litmus test which will determine the future of electoral politics in Iran.

Parliamentary Elections

Elections for the Majles [parliament] are held every four years and decided by a two-round voting system. The electoral system is based on a modified block vote system, as voters in multi-member districts have as many votes to cast as there are seats to fill. Candidates able to secure at least one fourth of the votes cast in the first round are elected to the Majles. Run-off elections are held in districts where one or more seats are left uncontested. The number of candidates who may run in the second round of elections is restricted to twice the number of seats to be filled in a single-member district (i.e. two) and one and a half times the number of seats to be filled in a multi-member district. In run-off elections, candidates with the most votes win the contested seats.

The Electoral District Law, adopted in 1985, allocates parliamentary seats among Iran's 207 electoral districts. Many of the country's 368 counties are retained as an electoral district, while some are the result of a merger between two, three or four counties.

The districts vary in geographic size; however, seat allocations are based on a formula, which entitles every 150,000 voters the right to elect one representative to the Majles. Increases to the number of seats are permitted under the constitution, and Article 64 establishes the conditions for an increase stating "The number of parliamentary seats can increase by no more than twenty seats for each ten-year period, and the decision to do so must be based on population growth, political and geographic factors."

Currently the province of Tehran elects the highest number of Majles deputies with 38 representatives, while the provinces of Ilam, South Khorasan, Qom and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad elect the least number of representatives, namely three deputies each.

Read full report here.

This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

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