The Iranian people got to experience a strong and vibrant democracy from 1907 – 1953, before their country was plunged back into dictatorship by the 1953 coup instigated by the USA & UK. During these five decades of real democracy in Iran, the people enjoyed systems of government very similar to that we see today in countries like the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
(See other posts here under the “Iran” tag about their electoral history.)
This full and free democracy is now no more, but much of Iran’s previously democratic procedures and institutions still survive today.
So. How different is the Iranian democratic system from ours then?
Iran’s current Constitution revolves around six main bodies,
- Supreme Leader
- Guardian Council
- Assembly of Experts
Although the connections between each of these are a bit complex, it all seems to boil down to one thing. The Supreme Leader has direct or indirect control over all of the other arms of government.
Although this might sound a bit dictatorial, this is actually quite a common form of government which is well accepted by the west.
Iran’s Supreme Leader enjoys similar powers and authorities to the leaders of such western friendly nations as Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan. So we can’t fault Iran’s system of government, as the same system is used by many of the western world’s good friends and close allies without complaint.
And it can not be repeated too many times – it was the western world that took Iran’s true democracy away from their people and replaced it with a dictatorship in 1953.
Iranians are able to have a bigger say in their affairs than many of the people in the neighbouring Arab dictatorships. Positions from the President down, including the leaders and councils of every Iranian city are democratically elected. But the Supreme Leader is not.
Iran has a Guardian Council, much influenced by the Supreme Leader, which decides which people would make suitable candidates to run for President. The Council excluded most of the 600 people who sought the post in 2021.
There are positive aspects to political life in Iran. Women are allowed to run for President and many have sought office, but none have made it past the Council vetting process thus far. Women have occupied various cabinet level positions in several recent Iranian administrations.
There are currently 17 women in the Iranian parliament, out of a total of 290 elected representatives, approximately 6% of the total.
That might not sound alot, but by comparison, it took until the mid 1990’s, in the 102nd US Congress (1991-93) to reach this same percentage of female representation. It was only the 103rd US Congress, (1993-95) and all others since, that surpassed this percentage.
Female congressional representation by party in America highlights greater disparities. Even in the 116th US Congress (2019-21) there were just 13 female Representatives in the House from the Republican Party, a mere 3% of the total, although this represents a low point.
So it is not a perfect system in Iran, as we in the west would deem ourselves fit to judge it, but it is not at all as bad as it is sometimes made out. There are conflicts of interest certainly, but Iran is not alone in that regard either.
As Secretary of State for the pivotal American state of Florida, Katherine Harris was a central figure in the 2000 US presidential election result which saw a narrow and highly controversial victory for Republican George W Bush. The whole election result hinged upon whether Bush or Democrat opponent Al Gore won the state of Florida and its 27 electoral votes. Whoever won Florida would win the Whitehouse. The vote count was inconclusive.
As Secretary of State in Florida Katherine Harris is an impartial and apolitical official who would be required to formally certify the winner in her state based upon her state government role and responsibilities.
However secretary of state Harris is also a staunch Republican who took time out from her official Florida government duties to campaign for George W. Bush in New Hampshire, according to the Washington Post. New Hampshire is a long way distant from Florida, but the tiny northern state holds the first primary election of a presidential campaign and is therefore critical in getting a good start in the overall race.
Harris, the official apolitical certifier of Florida’s election result, was also serving as the co-chairwoman of George W Bush’s Florida campaign and was a delegate to the Republican national convention in Pennsylvania.
How is it possible that an American public official can serve as private campaign manager for one of the presidential candidates?
That type of conflict of interest would never be allowed or tolerated by people in my country New Zealand. It would be considered blatant corruption and a clear conflict of interest.
It is not just the Republican party in American that is tarnished with these types of scandal and corruption. Remember poor old Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and his two primary election campaigns of 2016 and 2020?
New York Times Headline March, 2020:
“Democratic Leaders Willing to Risk Party Damage to Stop Bernie Sanders”
“Interviews with dozens of Democratic Party officials, including 93 superdelegates, found overwhelming opposition to handing Mr. Sanders the nomination if he fell short of a majority of delegates…..”
Superdelegates – making up almost 15% of the total delegate count – are highly influential senior party insiders who have total freedom to vote for any primary candidate of their choice, when the party convention officially votes for their candidate for President. This contrasts with normal elected state delegates (85% of total) who must vote for the candidate that voters in their state chose. Superdelegates therefore are highly influential in choosing the Democratic Party presidential nominee as their combined support for a second placed candidate, say Hillary Clinton, in a close race could give the nomination to that second place candidate, beating out the first placed candidate, who only held a small advantage, say Bernie Sanders.
This was a possible scenario facing the Democratic party in 2016 when outsider Bernie Sanders was running a strong and popular campaign against party insider and elite favourite Hillary Clinton. If Sanders had of won the primary election contest by only a small margin, superdelegates could have overturned the result by voting all together for Clinton, as they are free to vote for anyone they like. Party insiders like superdelegates would naturally support senior party insiders like Clinton.
As it turned out, the superdelegates en masse vote wasn’t necessary as there was enough help from the supposedly neutral Democratic party leadership for Clinton to win the primary vote anyway.
“Former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile acknowledged sending town hall questions and topics to Hillary Clinton’s campaign (before the event), calling it a ‘mistake I will forever regret.’ “
Bazile was sacked from her role as commentator for CNN as a result of this scandal.
Of course, Brazile wasn’t in the top job at the Democratic Party very long. She had only just replaced Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the party Chair.
Wasserman Schultz herself was forced to resign as party chair after a leak of internal Democratic party emails showed party officials actively favouring Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential primary and secretly plotting against Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic party,” Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “The party leadership must always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race”.
So, can we really claim America’s democratic system is better than Iran’s? How much goes on in western democracies that we would never know about if it weren’t for Wikileaks?
One final thought.
Just think what it would have meant for the long suffering world if America had a type of Guardian Council like Iran has, that appraises candidates for President, based upon their suitability for office!
At least three of the last four American presidents – all of whom were, and clearly are, grossly unfit for any public office – would have been removed from the list of candidates.
What anguish, death and suffering might the world have been saved if the United States electoral system had of disqualified George W Bush, Donald J Trump and Joseph R Biden from running for President?
The fact that any of these people occupied the Whitehouse is a damning stain on a nation’s culture.