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News | Majles Backflips in Election Law Folly; What's New Is Old in Nuke Policy

by DAN GEIST and TEHRAN BUREAU CORRESPONDENTS

13 Dec 2012 09:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

LarijaniverticalFars.jpgReversal of the Day

Parliament does a 180 on presidential eligibility legislation

It is standard procedure in the Majles for legislators to vote on a multipart bill in its entirety and only subsequently to debate and vote on its individual articles. But what occurred over the past week concerning legislation that would have imposed a sweeping new set of qualifications for potential presidential candidates was anything but standard. The new election law, which passed by a wide margin in its overall form, was effectively gutted when its crucial article was found by the same legislature to be unconstitutional by a far wider margin.

According to Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, a presidential candidate must have significant religious or political standing and be a "citizen of Iran, of Iranian parents, wise and able, of good reputation and background, and a true believer in the official religion of the country and the founding pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Guardian Council -- a 12-member constitutional body, half hand-picked by the Supreme Leader and half named by the chief of the judiciary, with parliamentary approval -- exercises vetting power over all those who register as candidates, determining who passes muster under Article 115 and who does not.

At the beginning of the week, the Majles voted 144 to 91 in favor of legislation that would have added stringent new eligibility requirements to the constitutional roster: minimum and maximum age; a master's or doctoral degree (interpretations of the bill's language have varied); and the attestation of dozens or even hundreds of government officials, academics, or clerics that a potential candidate meets the religious/political significance and "wise and able" standards.

Those provisions stirred controversy among widely divergent camps. They were opposed both by defenders of the Guardian Council, who saw them as undermining its vetting authority, and pro-democracy commentators, who saw them as further limiting Iranians' already constricted choice in possible leaders. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out vehemently against the legislation; it is widely assumed that he is maneuvering to have a member of his inner circle succeed him in next June's presidential election and that he saw the law as a means of eliminating any chance that his favored candidate would be approved. And those who hope to see 78-year-old former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani make another run for the office surely noted that the maximum age requirement would have barred that possibility.

Just days later, when the Majles took up debate on the legislation's individual articles, deputy Ali Reza Salimi moved that Article 7, encompassing all of the controversial new eligibility requirements, violated the Constitution. Speaker Ali Larijani (pictured above), who had personally pitched the virtues of the legislation to the Guardian Council -- half of whose members were chosen by his brother, judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani -- observed that the council also maintained that it was unconstitutional and thus seconded Salimi's objection. With Larijani, the parliament's top officer and the legislation's most prominent advocate, having turned against it, the Majles rejected Article 7 as unconstitutional by a vote of 162 to 19.

The reversal of the new election law is seen as an unambiguous victory for the Guardian Council, a bastion of hardline conservatism within the Islamic Republic's ruling system. While the requirement for a would-be candidate to obtain the support of scores of respected figures could readily be seen as a de jure limitation on democratic liberties, in actual practice, it might well have given non-hardline candidates the opportunity to amass and demonstrate both popular and institutional support before council vetting. Article 7's swift demise leaves the Guardian Council with a free hand to reject any nominee whom it finds politically incorrect.

First Nuclear-Themed Video of the Day

Voice of America interview with former chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian. According to Mousavian, the global community has failed to comprehend and thus effectively deal with the Islamic Republic's political judgments about its nuclear program and the international economic sanctions that have targeted it. "Iranian political behavior is completely different under threats and pressures," he says. "If they want Iran to be more flexible and cooperative, they should understand Iran cannot show flexibility and cooperation under threats and sanctions. This is what the world powers -- especially the Western powers -- they do not understand about the realities inside Iran. They believe if they increase sanctions and pressures, they would get Iran to agree to change its nuclear policy. It's not gonna happen."

Second Nuclear-Themed Video of the Day

Columbia University professor Gary Sick describes to Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose how little Iran's geopolitical interests have actually changed from the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to the Islamic Republic that Ayatalloh Ruhollah Khomeini installed in 1979. "Iran's nuclear policy today is really scarcely different at all from the Shah's nuclear policy," he says. "When the Shah was doing it, we [the United States] were giving him nuclear reactors. We were assisting him in every way we could. We were competing for his business. And we thought this was just dandy, although there were people around saying, 'Hey, he's really going for a bomb.' We were prepared to just ignore that, close our eyes to it and help, because he was a friend of ours. The mullahs are doing exactly the same thing."

Photos of the Day

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Antiquities in the National Museum of Iran, visited this week by a delegation from the Republic of Moldova.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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