(Source: Iran Year Book, 1996)
INSTITUTIONS ADMINISTERED BY THE LEGISLATURE
The Accounting Court is administered by the legislature and has the task of reviewing the earnings and spending of all organizations and institutions which receive appropriations from the budget.
Majlis-e Shora-ye Islamic (Islamic Consultative Assembly), known as the Majlis for short, is the Iranian parliament. It has 270 members who are elected by the direct vote of the people for four years. The powers and functions of the Majlis are specified by the constitution (Article 71-90).
The first Majlis after the Islamic revolution was convened in 1980 and the second Majlis began its terms in 1984. The general election for the third Majlis was held in April 1988, and its terms started in May 1988. People went to the polls for the fourth Majlis in April 1992.
A principal requirement for any members of parliament (MP) is his/her deep belief in Islam. However, the religious minorities recognized by the constitution, the Zoroastrians, the Jews and the Armenian and Assyrian Christians have their own representative s in the Majlis. The first two minorities have one MP each and the Armenians, larger in population, have two MPs for the south and north of Iran. The Assyrians have one MP.
Majlis has a set of internal rules which sets forth the manner of steering its meetings, debating and voting on the bills and motions etc., and the tasks of its committees. According to the rules, the Majlis has a steering board comprising a speaker, two deputy speakers who run the meetings in his absence and a number of secretaries and provisions administrators.
Under the provision of Article 69 of the constitution, the deliberations of the Majlis must be open, the full report of which is broadcast on the radio and then published verbatim by the Official Gazette. The president or one of the ministers or 10 MPs may call for a closed meeting of the Majlis. The constitution, however, emphasizes that the resolutions of the closed meeting will only become law if they are passed by a majority of three-quarters of members of parliament (MPs) with Guardian Council members also attending. But ordinary meetings of the Majlis reach quorum by an attendance of two-thirds of the MPs, and their resolutions normally become law by a simple majority, unless otherwise required by law.
MPs do not have judicial immunity except under Article 86 of the constitution. In May 1988, a motion effectively amounting to a sort of parliamentary immunity for the members was passed in the first reading. It provided for investigating offense committed by the members before and during membership by the courts concerned in Tehran. MPs should only be summoned or subpoenaed by the Majlis. Details of the bill were to be decided in the second reading.
POWERS OF MAJLIS
Majlis has the following powers:
- a) debating the motions tabled by the government upon the cabinet’s approval, as well as bills tabled by at least 15 MPs,
- b) debating and inquiring into all the national affairs,
- c) approving international treaties, protocols, agreements, and contracts,
- d) effecting minor changes in the border lines by taking into consideration the national interests, and by a majority of four-fifths of MPs,
- e) agreeing to the cabinet’s request for the proclamation of martial law for no more than 30 days,
- f) Tabling a motion of no confidence in the prime minister or any of the ministers; casting a vote of confidence or no confidence in the government or in any of the ministers.
Majlis has several permanent committees with the task of carrying out the initial discussions about the bills and motions. Moreover, select committees are formed as the need arises. Early 1989 amendments to House rules allowed committees to have between nine and 15 members, with the exception of the constitutional article 90 committee, which can have 15-31 members. The permanent committees are:
- 1) Education;
- 2) Culture and Higher Education;
- 3) Islamic Guidance and Arts and Mass Media;
- 4) Economy and Finance;
- 5) Plan and Budget;
- 6) Oil;
- 7) Industry and Mine;
- 8) Labour and Social Affairs, and Administrative and Employment Affairs;
- 9) Housing and Urban Development and Roads and Transport;
- 10) Judicial and Legal Affairs;
- 11) Defence and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps;
- 12) Foreign Policy;
- 13) Internal Affairs & Councils;
- 14) Health and Welfare, Relief, Social Security and Red Crescent;
- 15) Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones, and Energy;
- 16) Commerce and Distribution;
- 17) Agriculture and Rural Development;
- 18) Prime Ministry Affiliated Organizations;
- 19) Accounting Court and the House Budget and Finance;
- 20) Revolution Institutions;
- 21) Constitutional Article 90 Petitions Committee which has the task of investigating the complaints of the public against government organizations;
- 22) Questions Review Committee, which has the task of reviewing the questions of MPs to ministries and the latter’s replies. This committee decides if the replies have been satisfactory. Should the committee find a minister’s reply unsatisfactory three times, MPs will be able to table a motion of no confidence in the minister concerned.
A bill or a motion may be tabled with the Majlis in two ways:
- 1) the government may table it upon the cabinet’s approval;
- 2) fifteen MPs may table a motion. The Steering Board of the Chamber is responsible for arranging the debating procedure. The bills are normally debated in turn. Urgent motions are debated under a different procedure as explained later.
Debating procedure begins with the first reading of a bill which has already been passed by the committee concerned and the text of which has been distributed to the MPs. Should the bill’s generalities be passed in the first reading, it would then be forwarded to the committee(s) concerned for a review of its details. At this stage, MPs may propose their related amendments. The bill’s details and the proposed amendments are discussed, and either adopted or rejected. The committee concerned may also invite experts from outside the parliament to take part in its meetings.
Subsequently, the bill comes up for a second reading which concerns its details. At this stage, MPs whose proposed amendments have not been adopted by the committee concerned, may put their proposal to the full House and call for votes. If the bill is passed in the second reading, it would be forwarded to the Guardian Council for ratification.
This is the normal procedure of legislation. Urgent, one-star, bills, however, are discussed only once by the committee concerned. Very urgent, two-star bills do not even go to the committees and are debated by two successive meetings of the Chamber. The first meeting deals with the generalities of the bill and the second with its details. Top urgent, three star, bills, and motions are placed on the agenda immediately. The degree of urgency of the bills has to be approved by a majority of the MPs. Some of th e bills cannot be tabled under urgency provisions, for instance, the budget.
Majlis Seats by Provinces
THE GUARDIAN COUNCIL
Motions and bills passed by the Majlis do not automatically become law. The constitution has provided for a constitutional council of sages known as the Council of Guardians of the Constitution (Shora-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assassi, Articles 91-99). The Gu ardian Council, as it is known for short, is in effect an upper house of parliament with the power to vote out the lower house’s resolutions. It is assigned to check the laws passed by the Majlis, compare them with the provisions of the Islamic canon and the constitution, and ratify them, or return them to the House for being amended.
The council has 12 members. Six are clerical Islamic canonists and six others are civilian jurists. The first group of six is appointed by the leader, or the Leadership Council, and the second group is elected by the Majlis from among candidates nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council.
Members of the Guardian Council serve a six-year term. Only in the first term, however, half of its members, as determined by lots, were changed after three years. The leader is empowered to reinstate the Islamic canonist members of the council after thei r six-year term is over. Article 93 of the constitution has emphasized that the Majlis does not hold any legal status, if the Guardian Council has not yet been formed, except for the purpose of approving the credentials of the MPs and the election of six jurists to the Guardian C ouncil.
POWERS AND FACTIONS
The Majlis is required to forward all its resolutions to the Guardian Council. The council will announce its opinion on them within no more than 10 days. It may, however, request more time if necessary.
Regarding the compatibility of the legislation with Islamic provisions, only the opinion of a majority of the six Islamic canonists of the council is valid, but concerning their constitutionality the opinion of the majority of all members will hold. The c ouncil members are required to attend Majlis debates on urgent bills.
The Guardian Council also has the duty of interpreting the constitutional provisions, and its opinions in this regard are valid by a majority of three-fourths of its members. Other duties of the council include supervision of the presidential elections, g eneral elections and referenda.
The council’s power of veto over legislation imposed a state of imbroglio on important bills such as those dealing with farming lands distribution, foreign trade and goods distribution throughout the first two terms of the Majlis.