Fact Check: Does Iran’s President have the Authority to Supervise the Election Candidate Qualification Process?
After a large number of candidates for the upcoming Majlis elections were disqualified by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, said that “we witnessed a great turnout for [candidate] registration, and the results of the executive committees were also promising. Although there are some that have not been qualified, we are optimistic and hopeful that the Guardian Council will review their cases, and that if some of the candidates have not been qualified, the Council can interfere, and I, as the president of the republic, will utilize all my power and authority in this respect.”
President Rouhani’s promise to use all of his ‘power and authority’ in the matter of candidate qualification has sparked numerous reactions: it was welcomed by many individuals and groups who are critical of the Guardian Council’s veto power and its disqualifications, but on the other hand the conservative forces and supporters of the Guardian Council reacted harshly and negatively to the President’s remarks.
Mousa Ghorbani is a conservative who had been a Majlis MP for 4 terms, as well as an ‘advisor to the Guardian Council’ during the mass disqualification of the candidates in the 7th Majlis elections. He is also an uncompromising critic of President Rouhani.
In response to President Rouhani’s statement about using his power and authority to intervene in the mass disqualifications, Ghorbani called the President’s remarks a “joke” and said that “within the framework of the law the president has no power or authority to supervise or review the qualification process or the supervision of the election . . . this is clearly and unequivocally the Guardian Council’s duty.”
The Legal Context
According to Article 99 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, “the responsibility for supervision and monitoring of the Assembly of Experts, Presidential, and Majlis elections – as well as public votes and referenda – lies with the Guardian Council.”
Based on Article 113 of the Constitution, the president of the Islamic Republic is responsible for the implementation of the constitution. In 1987, Majlis passed a law to determine the scope of the powers and authority of the president of Iran, and this law was subsequently approved by the Guardian Council. The law’s Section 14 concerns instances in which “an article of the constitution is either not fully implemented or its execution has been halted.” According to Section 14, the president has the power to request reports on the causes and reasons for actions that have affected the implementation of the constitution. The responsible official is also accountable to the president regarding those reasons, and must respond to these presidential queries. In cases where government organizations are responsible for violations, cases will be referred to Majlis, and in other instances, matters will be referred to other competent institutions.
Section 15 of the law holds that the president has the authority to “warn and advise the three branches of the government” regarding impediments to the constitution’s implementation. In Sections 14 and 16 regarding the reporting of statistics about problem cases in constitutional implementation to the president, there is no reference to his power or authority, and there is no mention that supervising the Guardian Council is included within the scope of his powers.
Ahmad Jannati, Secretary of the Guardian Council, spoke about this law in 2013 and claimed that supervising the Council is not within the authority of the president.
The Government’s Role in Previous Cases
There were, however, at least 3 cases during the 80s and 90s in which the government took measures to oppose the way the Guardian Council used its veto power to disqualify a large number of Majlis candidates, the election results, and the voting process. As a result of government opposition, the Guardian Council’s decisions were revoked in at least two cases.
The mass disqualification of candidates during the 7th Majlis elections forced Mohammad Khatami, the president at the time, to write a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regarding the matter. In response, Khamenei asked the Guardian Council to review the cases of the disqualified candidates. Although towards the end of the election campaigns a handful of candidates were ultimately qualified to compete in the elections, the president’s complaints did not precipitate a more comprehensive review of the conservative-dominated Guardian Council and its policies.
A number of senior legal experts in Iran, such as Bahman Keshavarz, say that “it does not seem that the president is able to take drastic action or to bring about serious change in the Guardian Council’s vetting or disqualification process,” but “even this case has exceptions, too. As an example, if it is obvious that any of the candidates were disqualified for a reason that is mentioned in the 3rd article of the Constitution, and if there is a discussion about people’s rights, then the president can take action against such violations.” Based on this article of the constitution, the president can take action in a specific case on behalf of a particular individual, but his complaint is not against the Guardian Council as an institution overall.
With reference to current laws in Iran and to existing interpretations of the Constitution, the president does not have the power or authority to directly interfere with the Guardian Council’s role in the “supervision and qualification process” phase of elections. However, there have been different occasions in the past when the president has sent letters opposing the Guardian Council’s vetting process and protesting the ways in which elections have been held. Based on the above observations, we rate Mousa Ghorbani’s remark that Iran’s “president does not have the power and authority to supervise and monitor the [candidate] qualification process” as “half-true.”