How Much Power Will Iran’s New President Have?
An extremely conservative clergyman was invested as President of Iran on Thursday.
The cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, won an election in June that disqualified any potential rivals. Critics said Mr Raisi’s victory was designed to reflect the choice of his mentor and ally, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The election drew attention to the role of the Iranian president in a governance system dominated by religious leaders since the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy more than four decades ago.
Although the system contains certain checks and balances, power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the supreme leader, who under the Iranian constitution has more authority than the president.
Here’s a closer look at the president and the powers he has – and doesn’t have.
Who is Mr. Raisi?
Until last month, Mr. Raisi, 60, was the head of the Iranian justice system. He has spent much of his career as a prosecutor and is on a US sanctions list because of his human rights record. In 1988, he served on a committee that sent about 5,000 jailed government opponents to their deaths, according to human rights organizations.
He is a protégé of Mr. Khamenei, 82, who is largely responsible for Mr. Raisi’s rise. They share a deep distrust of the West in general and an antipathy towards the United States in particular. Mr. Raisi is seen as Mr. Khamenei’s main choice to succeed him.
Previous presidents often disagreed with the highest rulers – to a point – but Mr Raisi could become the most like-minded person to date.
What is Iran’s system of governance?
The Iranian government is divided into executive, legislative and judicial branches, and it conducts elections for the president, members of parliament and local officials. But it is also governed by an Islamic clerical hierarchy which oversees civil administration.
Much of the power of this hierarchy is vested in the Council of Guardians, a group of 12 men. Half are clergymen appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other half are lawyers chosen by Parliament on the recommendation of the Head of the Judiciary, who is also appointed by the Supreme Leader. The council reviews all laws passed by parliament and approves all presidential candidates, giving it enormous control.
The supreme leader is chosen by a special body of clergymen known as the Assembly of Experts. Although this group is an elected body, candidates for membership must also be approved by the Council of Guardians.
Who designed this system?
The original structure was designed by Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a once-exiled cleric who sparked widespread anger by ousting Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his repressive monarchy during the 1979 revolution. .
Mr. Khomeini created a hybrid system for the new Islamic Republic of Iran that made religion central to its identity. It is “an unelected party, an elected party – the Republic party,” said Mohsen Milani, an Iranian scholar who is the executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida.
The constitution drafted under Mr. Khomeini’s tenure made it clear that he was the most senior official, with the power to remove the president. But under Mr Khamenei, who served as president under Mr Khomeini and succeeded him after his death in 1989, the constitution was amended to give even more power to the supreme leader.
What exactly can the Supreme Leader do?
He is the commander of the armed forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary force that exercises extensive control inside the country. He can declare war and pardon prisoners. He has the final say on all matters of national security and foreign policy, including Iran’s nuclear deal with foreign powers which is now in danger of collapsing.
In addition to the appointment of the head of the judiciary, the supreme head chooses or strongly influences the choices of key positions in the presidential cabinet, in particular for the positions of defense, foreign affairs, intelligence and internal security. It also controls the state media.
“In the Iranian system, the supreme leader is the ultimate authority,” said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian studies expert at Virginia Tech and director of its School of Public and International Affairs. “He can set the general policies of the entire regime. “
Mr. Khamenei’s effective dominance over the Council of Guardians gives a glimpse of the extent of his power. Although he only officially appoints six members, he unofficially determines the other six by appointing the head of the judiciary, who would likely not recommend anyone to Mr Khamenei.
What powers does the president have?
Although reporting to the Supreme Leader, the President has some authority – within limits – as the official head of state.
He appoints ministers to key economic positions. He signs treaties, oversees the budget, and controls the civilian structures of government responsible for public works, health care, electricity, water, and other natural resources.
He also derives power from the Supreme Leader as the person responsible for carrying out his policy.
What is the most pressing problem Mr. Raisi faces as president?
Iran’s economic weakness, compounded by the pandemic, a water scarcity and the severely damaging effects of US sanctions, is seen as its most immediate problem. He will have to find a way to end, relax or circumvent these sanctions, which helped undo the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani.
The Supreme Leader rose up against the United States over the nuclear dispute but did not end negotiations to resolve it.
Could Mr. Raisi ever challenge the Supreme Leader?
Mr Raisi, a former student of Mr Khamenei, is seen as very unlikely to ever disagree with him – or even show a hint of disagreement, Iranian experts have said.
“One thing to understand: Raisi was Mr. Nobody until the Supreme Leader decided to turn him into one of his proteges and appoint him to powerful positions,” said Dr Boroujerdi. “You wonder, ‘Why would Khamenei invest so much power in one individual if he didn’t prepare him? “”
Gary Sick, a researcher at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute who was the White House’s main adviser on Iran during the 1979 revolution and the US hostage crisis there, said Mr. Raisi will be judged on his ability to improve the quality of life of Iranians. , including those who did not vote for him.
In a recent article, Dr Sick wrote that as long as Iran is controlled by conservative officials, Mr Raisi cannot blame more moderate elements for the failures of his presidency.
“Raisi is fortunate to have a political clean slate, with hard-line supporters dominating all parts of the government,” wrote Dr Sick. “But this blessing may be short-lived.”
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