Constitutional and Legal Barriers to Reforms

The realization of the initial promises of the reformist candidates, including president Khatami, particularly in the domain of individual rights and the rule of law, has been stymied by both the political and ideological bent of the judiciary and the basic principles imbedded in the constitution of the Islamic republic. The failure of the reformist faction of the regime to advance its agenda has been particularly evident in the areas of press freedom, parliamentary immunity, and the rights of the opponents and critics of the regime.

The constitution, plagued by contradictory principles that recognize both the popular will as the source of political legitimacy and the absolute prerogatives of the supreme leader, presents insurmountable obstacles to the establishment of a truly democratic political system in Iran. Indeed, the right of the Majles to enact laws is severely limited by the supervisory mechanisms envisioned in the articles of the constitution. To reconcile the contradictory principles of the constitution and/or make it into a more democratic document through the amendment process is in itself a daunting, if not impossible, task. For, none of the seriously flawed provisions can be legally altered without the consent of those who wield nearly absolute power on the basis of these controversial provisions. Clearly, without substantial constitutional revision, the chances of reforming anti-democratic statutes and regulations remains but a futile hope.

It is on the basis of such statutes and regulations that the freedom of press, association and assembly has been severely restricted, due process denied the accused, the rights of women and religious minorities abridged. Given the inherent inability of the regime’s reformist faction to transform the basic legal structure of the regime through peaceful means, it is not surprising to see a deepening of public discontent and a gradual shift of the regime’s opponents toward less peaceful means of political campaign.

Mehrangiz Kar
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