Iran: Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran: The Institutionalization of Factional Politics

Article excerpt

Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran: The Institutionalization of Factional Politics, by Bahman Baktiari. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. xiii + 237 pages. Appends. to p. 244. Notes to p. 261. Bibl. to p. 266. Index to p. 282. $49.95.

Reviewed by Ervand Abraah*fan

The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a valiant-some would say, contorted-attempt to synthesize democracy with theocracy, popular sovereignty with clerical authority, the rights of man with divine rights, and Montesquieu's philosophy with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's concept of velayat-e faqih jurist's guardianship). Parliament, officially known as the Islamic Majlis, is straddled between the latter two contradictory concepts.

On the one hand, as the voice of the people elected through universal suffrage, the Majlis can legislate, vote on cabinet members, control the budget, question ministers, and debate the affairs of state. On the other hand, as subordinate to the voice of God, its bills have to be vetted by a clerically dominated Guardian Council to make sure they conform to the shari'a. The Guardian Council also controls-through a separate lawaccess to parliament and the supervision of elections, and it determines who can and cannot run for the Majlis. What is more, the supreme guide, known as the rahbar (leader), has the authority to set guidelines for the state, determine the interests of Islam, supervise the implementation of policy, dismiss the president, mediate between the three branches of government, and make senior appointments to the armed forces as well as to the judiciary, the media, and the clerical foundations. The rahbar is responsible not to parliament but to the Majlis-i Khibrigan (Assembly of Clerical Experts).

Bahman Baktiari's Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran is a meticulous study of the Islamic Majlis-its place in the constitution and its committee system. Baktiari also examines the role of the Majlis in drafting legislation, forming cabinets, and formulating national policies-including those involving foreign affairs. Relying on newspaper accounts of parliamentary debates, Baktiari provides us with a highly detailed but readable account of how the Majlis has functioned since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In his own words, "the Majles is the only institution in the country where every faction within the ruling elite has some representation" (p. 237, emphasis added). Baktiari also provides us with a valuable sketch of parliamentary history dating back to 1906 and with equally valuable insights into numerous other relevant issues, such as the assembly that drafted the constitution, the hostage crisis, the Iraqi invasion of Iran, and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait. …