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Khamenei Circumvents Parliament To Get Controversial Budget Bill Approved

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking with MPs during the parliament session on delivering the new budget for the next financial year, on December 8, 2019.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a decree, circumventing parliament by allowing members of the budget committee of the Parliament (Majles) to decide on Iran's budget bill for the next year.

Based on Khamenei's decree, the 45 members of the budget committee will decide on the budget bill rather than the 290 members of the Parliament.

In late February, the Majles rejected the general terms of the budget bill without going into details, a few days after the budget committee ratified the bill with a very small majority.

The Majles then instructed the Rouhani administration to present a 2/12 budget for the first two months of the year. The new Iranian year starts on 21 March.

Assadollah Abbasi, a member of the Majles presidium who broke the news about the decree, said it was issued based on a request by Majles Speaker Ali Larijani. Abbasi added that the bill should be reviewed by the Guardian Council after approval by the budget committee.

It appears that knowing the parliaments' negative view about the bill, Khamenei has handed it over to a select committee that has already voted in favor of the bill.

However, Abbasi attributed the decision to an order by the disease control task force that has banned Majles sessions fearing the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Based on Article 85 of the Iranian Constitutional Law, the Majles may delegate some of its legislative powers to its internal committees at times of emergency. Nevertheless, according to the law, the MPs should decide whether it is time to resort to the emergency arrangements.

This is not the first time Khamenei intervenes in the constitutional processes at the Majles. Nor it is the first time he intervenes in legislation about economy and finance.

Last year he appointed the heads of the three powers of the government to a committee that decided raising the price of gasoline, instead of allowing the Majles to discuss the matter as usual. The decision made by the committee let to nationwide protests in November.

In the past he barred the Majles from voting on key issues such as the press code and two bills about the powers of the Presidency.

Khamenei has also circumvented democratic processes on other matters by sending messages to parliament demanding a vote for or against certain bills.

Earlier, Hadi Ghavami, the spokesperson for the budget committee had said that the Majles might delegate its authority to the committee about the budget bill, but he had also said that committee's view will be put to vote at an open session of the Majles later.

This comes while based on Khamenei's decree, after approval by the committee, the bill will be sent to the Guardian Council for their final attestation. The committee spokesman said that after the review by the Guardian Council the bill will be handed over to the administration for execution.

According to the Majles news agency ICANA, on February 25, when the bill was being discussed at the Majles, Planning and Budget Organization Chairman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said that the budget for the next year will have the least amount of dependency on oil revenue, at around 8.5 percent.

The lawmakers rejecting the bill argued that such a budget will bring about a deficit of 2,000 trillion rials (roughly $47.7 billion).

The government has no answer for this criticism. Iran cannot export oil because of U.S. sanctions and unless Iran agrees to negotiate, the sanctions will remain in force, at least during the Trump administration.

Shahrouz Barzegar, MP for Salmas said at the session: "The administration says that the budget's dependency on oil has been reduced to eight and half percent, but one must ask the question of what the budget is going to be dependent on?"

Fatemeh Hosseini, a member of the Budget Committee of the Majles told Sharq newspaper later, that two factors led to the rejection of the budget bill by full parliament. First, 90 current members were barred from running again for parliament and some of them voted against the budget. Second, was the coronavirus epidemic in Iran. Members rejected the bill not to have any further sessions, trying to avoid exposure to the virus.

Mohammad Kazemi, another member of the Budget Committee said: "I do not think the vote had anything to do with Coronavirus. The bill was approved at the committee with the minimum of votes. Of course, the virus may have had some impact, but it was clear from the very beginning that the budget bill was not likely to win votes at the Majles."