Iran’s supreme leader has defended the Islamic Republic’s controversial constitution, saying that politicians and officials are responsible for the shortcomings of the system.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was asked in a meeting with students on Wednesday, May 22 whether the problems Iran faces might be due to its constitution – which was adopted by a referendum in December 1979.
“The structure of the constitution is good, but structures need to be studied and rectified,” Khamenei said, leaving some room for change. But he added: “There are certain shortcomings with officials and some officials are not competent enough in handling affairs.”
One cannot know for certain why the issue of the constitution was suddenly raised by a member of the vetted audience, but President Hassan Rouhani in recent days has asked for more powers; something Khamenei would not like. For at least the last ten years he has been the unrivaled center of all authority, refusing to share power or prestige with anyone.
Opponents of the Islamic Republic are adamant that most problems arise from the near absolute power the Supreme Leader has accumulated and to make a real change means eliminating the position altogether.
In his remarks Khamenei accused “unnamed” officials of “sometimes making mistakes that cause a rift in society.”
He pointed to amendments to constitution, including setting up the Expediency Discernment Council in 1998, to resolve disputes between the Majles (parliament) and the 12-member Guardian Council.
The supreme leader stopped short of elaborating on the nature of future amendments.
When someone in the audience insisted to hear the Leader’s preference on a presidential and parliamentary political systems, Khamenei asserted that both systems are “problematic”.
“We extensively studied a parliamentary system in the Council of Revision of the Constitution [in 1989], and we concluded that the problems of the parliamentary government are even more than a presidential government.”
In spite of this, in 2010 Khamenei said that, if needed, the governing system of Iran could be changed from presidential to a parliamentary system with the prime minister elected by the Majles in charge of the executive branch of government.
Opponents say that this would mean Iran would no longer be an Islamic “republic”.
The question of constitutional change has been the subject of heated debate in recent years.
Some suggest that the positions of supreme leader and president should be combined into one executive power elected by the people, with checks on power.
One veteran revolutionary and former supporter of Khamenei has even called for an end to the Velayat-e-Faqih – governance by supreme leader.
Last year, Abolfazl Qadiani, who is currently jailed for “action against the regime”, said Iran’s supreme leader “should step down as a final solution to the Islamic Republic's problems”.
In an article published on opposition website Kalameh in November, the reformist politician described the Islamic Republic as “a religious dictatorship” and attributed "the fundamental inefficiency and corruption of the regime" to Khamenei.
Qadiani is a leading member of the Islamic leftist political organization IRMO (the Islamic Revolution's Mujahedeen Organization), a group that strongly supported the Islamic Republic until 2009 when its leadership fell out of favor with Khamenei after the disputed re-election of populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The IRMO was key to forming the Islamic Republic’s internal security system in the wake of the revolution.
After falling out with Khamenei, many of the organization's leaders, including Qadiani ended up in jail for a few years and one of their outspoken members, former deputy interior minister Mostafa Tajzadeh spent more than seven years in solitary confinement.