Iran Political System

The politics of Iran take place in a framework of a theocracy in a format of syncretic politics that is guided by an Islamic ideology. The December 1979 constitution, and its 1989 amendment, define the political, economic, and social order of the Islamic Republic of Iran, declaring that Shi’a Islam of the Twelver school of thought is Iran’s official religion.

Iran has an elected president, parliament (or Majlis), “Assembly of Experts” (which elects the Supreme Leader), and local councils. According to the constitution all candidates running for these positions must be vetted by the Guardian Council before being elected.

In addition, there are representatives elected from appointed organizations (usually under the Supreme Leader’s control) to “protect the state’s Islamic character”.

Political conditions

The early days of the revolutionary government were characterized by political tumult. In November 1979 the American embassy was seized and its occupants taken hostage and kept captive for 444 days because of support of the American Government to the King of Iran (Shah of Iran). The eight-year Iran–Iraq War killed hundreds of thousands and cost the country billions of dollars. By mid-1982, a succession of power struggles eliminated first the center of political spectrum and then the Republicans[2][3][4] leaving the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters in power.

Iran’s post-revolution challenges have included the imposition of economic sanctions and suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran by the United States because of the hostage crisis, political support to Iraq and other acts of terrorism that the U.S. government and some others have accused Iran of sponsoring. Emigration has lost Iran millions of entrepreneurs, professionals, technicians, and skilled craftspeople and their capital.” [5][6] For this and other reasons Iran’s economy has not prospered. Poverty rose in absolute terms by nearly 45% during the first 6 years since Iraqi invasion on Iran started[7] and per capita income has yet to reach pre-revolutionary levels when Iraqi invasion ended in 1988.[8][9]

The Islamic Republic Party was Iran’s ruling political party and for years its only political party until its dissolution in 1987. After the war, new reformist/progressive parties had started to form. The country had no functioning political parties until the Executives of Construction Party formed in 1994 to run for the fifth parliamentary elections, mainly out of executive body of the government close to the then-president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. After the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997, more parties started to work, mostly of the reformist movement and opposed by hard-liners. This led to incorporation and official activity of many other groups, including hard-liners. After the war ended in 1988, reformist and progressive candidates won four out of six presidential elections in Iran and Right-wing nationalist party of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won twice.

The Iranian Government is opposed by several armed terrorist groups, including the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the People’s Fedayeen, and the Kurdish Democratic Party. For other political parties see List of political parties in Iran.

Supreme Leader

Main article: Supreme Leader of Iran

The most powerful political office in the Islamic Republic of Iran is that of the Supreme Leader, of which there have been two: the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader is appointed and supervised by Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts is a publicly elected body, given that the right to stand as candidate is severely limited by the Guardian Council consisting of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader and six lawyers nominated by the head of the judicial system of Iran (himself selected by the Supreme Leader). The Supreme leader is the Head of State with some Executive powers related to Defense, Religious affairs and Guardian Council.

According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the “Absolute Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah” (ولایت مطلقه امر و امامت امت) that refers to the Supreme Leader of Iran.[10]

Historically the Supreme Leader has remained aloof from election politics. However, in the 2009 election, some of the pronouncements by Ali Khamenei were perceived by many to favor the incumbent candidate.

The Supreme Leader appoints the heads of some powerful posts – the commanders of the armed forces, the director of the national radio and television network, the heads of the major religious foundations, the prayer leaders in city mosques, and the members of national security councils dealing with defence and foreign affairs. He also appoints the chief judge, the chief prosecutor, special tribunals and, with the help of the chief judge, half of the 12 jurists of the Guardian Council (Constitutional Council)– the body that decides both what bills may become law and who may run for president or parliament.[11] According to the Iranian constitution the Supreme Leader asserts the authority of the president. He can veto the laws made by the parliament and legally he permits for presidential candidates to proclaim their candidacy. The declaration of war and peace is to be made by the Supreme Leader together with a two third majority of the Parliament.

Executive branch

Main article: President of Iran

The Constitution defines the President as the highest state authority after the Supreme Leader. The President is elected by universal suffrage, by those 18 years old and older,[12] for a term of four years. Presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running. After being elected, the president must be appointed by the Supreme Leader. The President is responsible for the implementation of the Constitution and for the exercise of executive powers, except for matters directly related to the Supreme Leader. The President appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers, coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the legislature. Currently, 10 Vice-Presidents serve under the President, as well as a cabinet of 21 ministers, who must all be approved by the legislature. Unlike many other states, the executive branch in Iran does not control the armed forces. Although the President appoints the Ministers of Intelligence and Defense, it is customary for the President to obtain explicit approval from the Supreme Leader for these two ministers before presenting them to the legislature for a vote of confidence.

Legislative branch

The current legislature of Iran is unicameral. Before the Iranian Revolution, the legislature was bicameral, with the senate (upper house) half elected, half appointed by the Shah. The senate was removed in the new constitution.


Main article: Islamic Consultative Assembly

The Parliament of Iran, or Majlis, comprises 290 members elected for four-year terms. The Parliament drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the national budget. All Parliament candidates and all legislation from the assembly must be approved by the Council of Guardians.

Guardian Council

Main article: Guardian Council

The Guardian Council (constitutional council) is composed of 12 jurists, including six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists elected by the Parliament Majles from among the Muslim jurists nominated by the Head of the Judicial System. The Council interprets the constitution and may reject bills from parliament deemed incompatible with the constitution or Sharia (Islamic law). These are referred back to parliament for revision. In an exercise of its authority, the Council has drawn upon a narrow interpretation of Iran’s constitution to veto parliamentary candidates.[citation needed]

As of the early 1990s, the Guardian Council vets candidates for national election in Iran mostly due to high candidacy rate in elections. There were more than 6000 candidates standing for the 2013 Presidential election in Iran, but only the six most qualified candidates were approved by the council.[citation needed]

According to the CIA World Factbook, The Guardian Council is a part of the Executive branch of the government.[13]

Expediency Council

Main article: Expediency Discernment Council

The Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between the Parliament and the Guardian Council (constitutional Council), and serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country.

Its members include heads of the three government branches, the clerical members of the Guardian Council and various other members appointed by the supreme leader for three-year terms. Cabinet members and parliamentary leaders also serve as temporary members when issues under their jurisdictions are under review. [14]

Judicial branch

Main article: Judicial system of Iran

The Supreme Leader appoints the head of the Judiciary, who in turn appoints the head of the supreme court and the chief public prosecutor. There are several types of courts including public courts that deal with civil and criminal cases, and “revolutionary courts” which deal with certain categories of offenses, including crimes against national security. The decisions of the revolutionary courts are final and cannot be appealed. The Special Clerical Court handles crimes allegedly committed by clerics, although it has also taken on cases involving Lay people. The Special Clerical Court functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader. The Court’s rulings are final and cannot be appealed.

Assembly of Experts

Main article: Assembly of Experts

The Assembly of Experts, which meets for at least two days, twice annually,[15] comprises 86 “virtuous and learned” clerics elected by adult suffrage for eight-year terms. Based on the laws approved by the first Assembly, the Council of Guardians has to determine candidates’ eligibility using a written examination. The Assembly elects the Supreme Leader and has the constitutional authority to remove the Supreme Leader from power at any time. As all of their meetings and notes are strictly confidential, the Assembly has never been known to challenge any of the Supreme Leader’s decisions.


Main article: Military of Iran

The military and the Corps of the Guardians (often mistranslated as guards) of the Islamic Revolution (or Sepaah in Persian meaning the Corps) are charged with defending Iran’s borders and Baseej (Persian for Mobilization) militia are charged with maintaining both external and internal security.

Administrative divisions

Main article: Provinces of Iran

Iran consists of 31 provinces (ostaan-haa, singular: ostan): Ardabil, Azarbayjan-e Gharbi, Azarbayjan-e Sharqi, Alborz (Karaj), Bushehr, Chahar Mahall va Bakhtiari, Esfahan, Fars, Gilan, Golestan, Hamadan, Hormozgan, Ilam, Kerman, Kermanshahan, North Khorasan, Khorasan, South Khorasan, Khuzestan, Kohkiluyeh va Buyer Ahmadi, Kordestan, Lorestan, Markazi, Mazandaran, Qom, Qazvin, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchestan, Tehran, Yazd, Zanjan. The provinces are each headed by a governor general. The provinces are further divided into counties, districts, and villages.

Local government

Main article: City and Village Councils of Iran

Local councils are elected by public vote to 4-year terms in all cities and villages of Iran. According to article 7 in Iran’s Constitution, these local councils together with the Parliament are “decision-making and administrative organs of the State”. This section of the constitution was not implemented until 1999 when the first local council elections were held across the country. Councils have responsibilities including electing mayors, supervising the activities of municipalities; studying the social, cultural, educational, health, economic, and welfare requirements of their constituencies; planning and coordinating national participation in the implementation of social, economic, constructive, cultural, educational and other welfare affairs.

Main office holders
Office Name Since
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei 4 June 1989
Chairman of Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani 6 February 1989
President Hassan Rouhani 3 August 2013
Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani 2 May 2008
Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani 30 June 2009
Chairman of the Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati 29 August 1988