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Why We Need to Discuss Post-IRI Constitution Today

By: Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D. 



Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor and Chair of the Political Science Program at the Department of History and Political Science at Utah Valley State College. This article was posted in response to Sam Ghandchi's note, on November 1, 2003 on Jebhe BB Thread, about the future constitution model proposed by Mr. Ardeshir Dolat.

My dear friend Sam,

Thank YOU for your kind words.

I would like to thank you for your brilliant idea of discussing the post-IRI constitution NOW. It is absolutely essential to discuss and have a constitution ready. There are several reasons for this.

A. Due to the lies that Khomeini made in Paris about freedom and democracy, and then in Iran, he imposed his vf constitution, our people and activists have a lack of trust for various leaders and political organizations. This lack of trust is a legitimate concern. One main way to reduce mistrust and increase trust is to have a constitution, around which the pro-democracy organizations, parties, groups and individuals can gather and fight for. This way, the people will not be fighting to put a specific person or party in power, but rather to put that constitution in power. As a result, we will not have a person or group say one thing today and say another thing tomorrow.

B. There are disadvantages to propose/have a constitution now. For example, not having a constitution and making the contours of the post-IRI system vague, it is possible to form an alliance that is broader. For instance, today the republicans who support a federal system and republicans who support the unitary system can work together as long as we have not specified the nature of the republican system (whether federal or unitary). If a party is strongly committed to a federal republican system and we come up with a unitary republican system, then that party may not join the coalition.

Many in the opposition such as the monarchists on purpose want to avoid this discussion because of several reasons. One reason is they want to deceive the people and the democratic opposition. Another is that there are more than a dozen monarchist groups. Many monarchists are monarchist because they admire Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah and want to restore precisely that kind of regime (e.g., Khashm, Rastakhiz, etc). There are a handful of monarchists like Hezb Mashrooteh (Dariush Homaun, Shahin Fatemi) who either genuinely want a constitutional monarchy or are on purpose deceiving the people in order to attract democrats into a coalition under the leadership of RP (the job that Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi and Dr. Bani Sadr did for Khomeini). There is of course great difference: in 1978 many believed that Khomeini only wants to get rid of Shah's brutal dictatorship and then he would go to Qom and engage in what a cleric had always done (teach in hozeh and be an ayatollah), but RP wants to be KING. A third group of monarchists are silent in the debate between the first group (totalitarian monarchists) and the second group (constitutionalist monarchists). One possible reason might be that they WANT to establish a dictatorial monarchy but think that RP should pretend to want a constitutional monarchy BEFORE coming to power. In other words, if RP said that he wants to be a king like has father's regime, then his chances would be reduced in the same way that if Khomeini in Paris said that he intends to establish Velayat Motlagh-e Faghih, where he would have all the power. Therefore, as long as monarchists in general and RP in particular have not proposed a constitution, the three monarchists can live together and each does what it does. But if tomorrow Reza Pahlavi proposed a constitution, he would have to put in writing his powers (or lack thereof).

Herein lies the inherent contradiction of establishing any constitutional monarchy: if RP's proposed constitution did not give him ANY power, then the questions would arise why in the world have the symbolic position and thus divide the republicans from the constitutionalist monarchists. If the position is merely symbolic, without any powers whatsoever, then one does not need to add it to the constitution. Those who like RP, can even today in the US go to his home, kiss his hand and call him His Imperial Majesty, the Light of the Aryans, Center of the Universe, etc. If in the proposed constitutional monarchy constitution, RP is given ANY power, then by virtue of power being granted to a person because of his birth and denied to all the other citizens of Iran, then this constitutional monarchy is an anti-democratic constitution. Even a referendum where the masses would vote for an anti-democratic institution (velayat faghih, slavery, monarchy and the like) would not make that institution a democratic one. To vote ONCE for the establishment of slavery, or monarchy or velayat faghih is to vote to give up on equality and democracy and invest it in the hands of slave-owners, monarchs and Supreme Leader.

In conclusion, RP will NOT propose any constitution today for the same reasons that Khomeini did not propose his vf constitution in Paris.

In my opinion, the advantages of having a constitution NOW instead of postponing the constitutional debate to after the overthrow of IRI outweigh the disadvantages. WHY? The post- IRI period will be very chaotic and under conditions of chaos and anarchy, the likelihood of a dictator emerging is substantially increased (whether Napoleon, Khomeini, Lenin-Stalin, etc). It is better to have an intellectual debate today, when none of us in the opposition has power, than fight on the streets of Iran in the immediate collapse of IRI.  In addition, today, we have the luxury of TIME, and reading and re-reading various books and articles debate with each other, and change our views and positions; this luxury will NOT exist during elections of the members of various parties to the Constituent Assembly [Majles Moasesan], where in all likelihood each party would attack other parties. Even more pertinent, the members of the Constituent Assembly would have limited time to propose, debate and write and pass the constitution which by its very nature would be less than three months. But TODAY, we can spend 1 or 2 years discussion, debating and researching various constitutional issues. It would be utter dereliction of duty of us, our intellectuals and parties to ignore proposing a constitution. And who have one in mind but want to hide it from the people and other political parties are very dangerous (wish to deceive others). The process of proposing and debating and researching a constitution should be done in a calm, intellectual and thoughtful manner. We need to begin this process by proposing, discussing and RESEARCHING.

In particular considering the class and political conditions of Iran and the preponderance of the oil income for the state (e.g., the rentier nature of the state in Iran), the likelihood of the Bonapartist state emerging in post-IRI cannot be discounted.

What does this mean for the constitutional design? I have no doubt that a monarchy in Iran will be terribly dictatorial for a variety of reasons. One being that most Iranian monarchists are dictatorial. Second, other opposition groups (JM, PMOI, communists, Melli Mazhabis) strongly and unequivocally oppose the re-establishment of monarchy. Third, all the indications are that huge numbers of Iranians do not want to re-establishment of monarchy.

It does not mean that a republican constitution will result in Iran becoming democratic. You and I know many in the democratic republican movement who TALK about freedom and democracy, but in their actual behavior are liars, dishonest, power-hungry and have for the sake of little power (to be called the head of this or that organization) have undermined their own friends and fellow party members. Even JM has not been immune from the danger of such individuals joining it in order to take advantage of our good name in order to gain power. Historically, there have been individuals like Dr. Mozafar Baghae and Shaban Bi-Mokh (or even Hossein Makki). Therefore, we need to craft a constitution that would minimize the possibility of a Bonapartist coup after we establish our democratic-republican system.

I congratulate you for bringing this vital topic up for discussion. I will be able to contribute in about 7 to 10 months. I am still working on my book on the ways that we can replace the IRI. My next project is on the constitutional design to maximize the prospects of democratic consolidation and minimize the likelihood of re-emergence of personal dictatorship. There is a growing Political Science literature on this subject and we should utilize this body of knowledge to help us. I will list a few with the hope that some of our readers and posters would read these and put them into good use. The best of this literature are:

Robert Dahl, On Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). The 2000 paperback edition is available.

Arend Lijphart, Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

Arend Lijphart, "Constitutional Choices for New Democracies," in The Global Resurgence of Democracy, 2nd edition, editors Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 162-174.

Juan Linz, "The Perils of Presidentialism," in Journal of Democracy, (Winter 1990), republished in The Global Resurgence of Democracy, 2nd edition, editors Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

Donald Horowitz, "Comparing Democratic Systems," in The Global Resurgence of Democracy, 2nd edition, editors Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

A great compilation of classical and contemporary state of the art studies on democracy is: Robert Dahl, Ian Shapiro, and Jose Antonio Cheibub, editors, The Democracy Sourcebook(Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2003).

We need to have a serious discussion on the merits and possibilities for IRAN:

* federal vs. unitary system and various permutations of each.

A permutation is what I call surface unitary, actual decentralized and highly democratic system that may best serve Iran's particular condition. For example, we can have a unitary system that is decentralized by simply taking the appointment of governors [ostandar] and mayors [shahrdar] out of the control of the Ministry of Interior and making them directly elected by the citizens in respective provinces [ostans] and cities. And we can have a Senate and have each province [ostan] elect two members to this Senate. My hybrid proposal would provide localities with the power to elect their own true representatives at the same time that we do not have to fear the creation of republics that may be breeding grounds for separatist sentiments. In my hybrid proposal, each province would send its true representatives to both Majles and Senate who would be making national policies. This hybrid is antidote to both separatism and centralized (and thus arrogant and overbearing) power.

* presidential (e.g., US) or parliamentary republic (e.g., Germany, India). Or the mix (and confusing) like France. I was a supporter of the US system, but after reading Linz, I am considering switching to the German and Indian model, but have not made up my mind yet. I will do more comparative research to find out the advantages and disadvantages of each variety.

* electoral system (whether to keep the current system under 1906 Constitution and vf constitution of the electoral system called Multiple Member District Plurality) or to have Proportional Representation (Italy) or Single Member District Plurality (e.g., US and UK), or a mix of half PR and half SMDP (e.g., Germany, Mexico).

There are two iron clad prerequisites that we have to have in order to have democracy in IRAN: absolutely no to monarchy and absolutely no to mixing of religion and the state.

Also we need to have a clear bill of rights strongly and unambiguously protecting the freedom of the press, parties, speech, and the like. We could either attach the UDHR to our constitution or use UDHR, EU's proposed Bill of Rights, and the US Bill of Rights and come up with a list that would best suit Iran (I think a much stronger separation of religion and state may be both desirable and possible).

We should KNOW that a constitution is NOT a wish list or a party platform, where we include what we wish to be public policy (free education, health care, or whether banks and oil industry should be private or state-owned, home ownership, family planning, tax rates, welfare, etc). For instance, whether to have free universal health care or have it private is a matter for various parties to include in their platforms, get their elected representatives legislate it and after a few years to modify it or if the people changed their mind to dismantle it. What kind of health care Iran should have is NOT a matter of constitution. For IRAN, our constitution should be as short as possible (one should be able to read it in about 1 hour) and as clear as possible (anyone with a high school degree should be able to fully understand it). In other words, no legalese jargon. We should avoid incomprehensible and unclear concept or those that could easily be abused by a government to suppress dissent such as "one is free to express one's opinion as long as it does not endanger national security, insult the sensitivities of the people or undermine religion." In Iran, we have suffered from a long history of sever repression of expression, particularly in the past 80 years (under Reza Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah and Khomeini). Since the 1906 Constitution, our liberties were somewhat there between 1906-1921 and then spotting between 1921-1925, and then 1941-1953, and late 1978-mid 1979. Our freedom of expression were severely repressed 1926-1941, 1953-1978, 1981-present. With the exception of the Mossadegh period 1951-1953, the relative freedom of expression was largely due to the lack of powerful central authority. The freedom of expression [azadi] has been the central problem in the past 100 years of our history, thus our democratic constitution should spend much space defining it and protecting it.

After I am finished with my book on how the replace the IRI, I can devote all my time to the constitutional design that would maximize the prospects of democracy and minimize the danger of the return of personal dictatorship. Although the sequence is clear: first we have to get rid of IRI and second discuss the design of a democratic constitution that would be most appropriate for Iran (taking into account our history, culture, long brutal dictatorial past, the continued existence of dictatorial groups, ethnic composition, and ideologies and sensitivities of various political parties...), proposing and agreeing on one constitution can have a very positive impact on mobilizing the masses and intellectuals to fight the IRI and make certain that the post-IRI system would be democratic and remain democratic.

Hopefully, next year this time, my book on a democratic constitution will be out and I can discuss the various institutional proposals in more detail. In the meantime, I encourage all the posters and readers to express their views. We can learn from each other and help achieve a consensus in the calmer climate today than the chaos that will come with the collapse of the fundamentalist regime. The advantages of having a constitution that most groups would accept and fight for will become a powerful tool in the hands of the activists and masses alike. It would become a legitimate document that would have more legitimacy and support than the vf constitution that has proven to be a disaster for Iran.

I want to thank Mr. Ardeshir Dolat for his hard work proposing a constitution. I have printed it and will read it carefully, before I write my book. I will also carefully read your review of Dolat's proposed constitution and use your ideas. I will footnote you and Mr. Dolat whenever I use your ideas. I hope that our intellectuals and activists would start READING the great fruits of Political Scientists who have done so much scholarly research. We do not need to re-invent the wheel. We can and should use the results of social science to fit Iran's own history, culture, and political configuration.

Highest regards,

Masoud Kazemzadeh


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