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Iran Supreme Leader Role Should Be Updated In Constitution, Says Speaker

Iran Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani speaking under a poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani speaking under a poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

In an unprecedented remark, the Speaker of the Iranian parliament, has commented on the possibility of amending the Islamic Republic of Iran’s constitution.

“It’s probably necessary to amend the constitution through legal channels and make the principle of ‘Velayat Faqih’ (guardianship of the jurisprudent – Iran’s power structure whereby an Ayatollah is ‘Supreme Leader’) more compatible with the current situation,” Ali Larijani said, while emphasizing that ‘Velayat Faqih’ is a pillar of Iran’s constitution.

The question of ‘Velayat Faqih’ in Iran has always been a topic of heated debate. The political wing known as the conservatives believe that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic’s position is God given, whereas the opposition argues that its legitimacy is only based on people’s votes.

President Hassan Rouhani, in an iftar ceremony with university professors, doctors and other healthcare staff, had earlier also implicitly referred to the necessity for a new approach toward the definition of ‘Velayat Faqih’.

“Imam Ali’s sovereignty was based on people’s opinions and votes. Imam Ali’s rule was short-lived but replete with lessons. His jurisdiction was established on the people’s insistence”, said Rouhani, of the first Shi’ite Imam.

The president’s speech touched further on the teachings of Imam Ali, an apparent criticism of the current power structure. “Imam Ali said, ‘whoever people elect as their leader, I will be the first to obey him’. The foundation of a ruling system, according to Imam Ali, was people’s choice and opinion. [Yet,] it appears that we have distanced ourselves from Islam,” said Rouhani.

A spokesman affiliated to Ayatollah Khamenei, at the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), immediately hit back.

“We hear some odd comments these days. We hear that some people are saying, ‘We (the clergy) should go back to our lecterns and only talk about [Islamic] principles,” said mid-ranking cleric, Ali Saidi.

Without naming Rouhani, the cleric added: “These people believe that ‘velayat’ is based on the popular vote. They are wrong, this is not compatible with Islamic standards and principles.”

There are two factions, “Hezbollah (the Party of God) and the Hezb al-Shaytan (Party of the Devil),” Saidi maintained, adding, “the former is for theocratic legitimacy of the Supreme Leader, while the latter is against it.”

Amidst the ping-pong exchange of veiled comments between Rouhani and Khamenei, the Speaker of the parliament reiterated that there might be a need for amending some articles to make them more compatible with today’s requirements.

“We must guard ‘Velayat Faqih’ as a cherished principle of the revolution and, in the meantime, amend it according to the current requirements,”said Speaker Larijani. He did not elaborate on the nature of potential amendments.

The current ‘Supreme Leader’, during the first months of the establishment of the Islamic Republic, was apparently among those who highlighted the role of people’s votes in consolidating the guardianship of the jurisprudent:

“The legitimacy of ‘velayat’ and government depend on the people’s pledge of allegiance [to him].” said Ayatollah Khamenei in a recent speech. “However, when the majority of the people decisively pledge allegiance to someone and, in fact, accept him as the ruler, others should submit to him.”

The Islamic Constitution has been amended only once: The Amendments were approved by 97.6% of voters in a referendum held on 28 July 1989. The amendments included the elimination of the need for the Supreme Leader of the country to be a "marja" (a high-ranking religious leader in Shia Islam who is the source of emulation for them). The amendment paved the way for Ali Khamenei, then a mid-ranking cleric, to become ‘Vali-ye Faqih’.

For further amendments, two thirds of the members of Iran's parliament would have to vote for a referendum. The Supreme Leader can veto the parliament's decision however through an edict.