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            Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the nation of Iran has declared itself an Islamic Republic. Its theocratic system of governance functions under the banner of Twelver Shi’a Islam, the official religion of the country. Although the structure of the government follows a generally tripartite legislative-executive-judicial formula, all of the government bodies are very intricately woven together in an elaborate system of checks and balances. Some government positions wield more power than others, but all are held accountable by advisory bodies that are elected by popular vote, either directly or indirectly.
The Supreme Leader of Iran is the top religious and political figure in the country. Elected by the Assembly of Experts on the basis of scholarship, piety, and demonstrated capability of leadership, the Supreme Leader oversees all of Iran’s policies, appoints and dismisses several high-ranking political and religious officials (including half of the Guardian Council, the heads of media networks, and chief judges), and acts as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He alone is able to declare war or peace. Essentially, the Supreme Leader has the power to intervene in all domestic and foreign affairs of the state. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, there have been two Supreme Leaders: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-1989) and Ali Khameini, who still holds the position today.
Assembly of Experts is an advisory body of religious clerics responsible for appointing and supervising the activities of the Supreme Leader. The Assembly has the power to dismiss the Supreme Leader, but this has never occurred. There are currently 86 sitting members, chaired by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Members are elected by popular vote to eight-year terms; the last election was held in 2006, and new elections are expected to be held in 2014.
The President of Iran is elected directly by the people by absolute majority to a four-year term that is renewable once. Presidential candidates must be of Iranian origin and nationality, demonstrate their capabilities in administrative work, and prove their loyalty to the founding principles of the Islamic Republic. The President is responsible for a variety of tasks, the most significant of which are: signing legislation approved by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament); planning the national budget; appointing a prime minister and heading the Council of Ministers; and signing any domestic or international treaty, contract, or agreement. Although the President is in charge of all executive matters of the state, he ultimately answers to the Supreme Leader of Iran. The current President is Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of the Abadgaran party (in the conservative-Islamist camp), and is serving his second consecutive term as president. Iran’s next presidential elections are to be held in June 2013.
Beneath the President are eleven Vice-Presidents and 22 cabinet ministers, the latter of which is known as the Council of Ministers. Vice-Presidents are chosen by the President, though their existence is not obligatory. Generally, Vice-Presidents assist in the leadership of organizations related to Presidential Affairs. The First Vice-President, however, leads the cabinet when the President is unable to do so. The Council of Ministers, appointed by the President, largely resembles the US Cabinet. Both bodies must be approved by parliament, though some positions – such as the Ministers of Intelligence and Defense – must be approved by the Supreme Leader, as they relate to his power as Commander-in-Chief.
The Islamic Consultative Assembly – also known as the Majlis – is Iran’s unicameral parliamentary body. The Majlis consists of 290 members who are elected to four-year terms. Members do not run along sectarian or ethnic lines; rather, they are divided as conservative, reformist, independent, and religious minorities within an Islamic framework. Majlis members are elected by the people, but they must be initially approved by the Guardian Council – a group of six religious men and six jurists who are appointed by the Supreme Leader and Head of the Judiciary, respectively – to confirm their dedication to Islamic principles and to the founding ideas of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nationally recognized religious minorities (such as Jews, Armenian Christians, Zoroastrians, etc.) may not be subjected to this criterion. The Majlis appoints a Speaker by majority vote. Today, Ali Larijani – who is aligned with the conservative camp – is Speaker of the Majlis.
The Majlis is responsible for introducing, establishing and interpreting laws, but the Guardian Council must confirm that any such laws do not contradict the principles of Islam. The Majlis is also in charge of ratifying international treaties and approving the President’s proposed national budget. Additionally, the legitimacy of the newly-elected President and his Council of Ministers requires a vote of confidence from the Majlis.
A unique body in the Iranian government is the Guardian Council – a legislative-judicial body which wields significant influence over the Majlis and the general affairs of the country. It is comprised of twelve jurists: half are appointed by the Supreme Leader, the other half are nominated by the Head Jurist and subsequently elected by the Majlis. The main responsibility of the Guardian Council is to ensure that any legislation proposed or passed by the Majlis adheres to the constitution and shari’a. Additionally, the Guardian Council acts as a filter for candidates running for the office of the President, Majlis, and the Assembly of Experts; it also oversees the elections of these offices. The Guardian Council is popularly known as the “Watchdog of the Islamic Republic”.
Iran was once the country with the lowest voting age (fifteen), but a recent decision by the Guardian Council has raised the voting age to eighteen. Both males and females are allowed to vote.
Under the watchful eye of the Guardian Council, political parties in Iran began to diversify in the 1990s. Today, parties range from hard-line conservatives to reformists to independents. Recent years have seen a rise in public protests directed at a wide range of issues – including a resistance to the theocratic nature of the government from among the younger generations – but the issue that has permeated international media most recently was the national protests after the 2009 presidential elections. The politically conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, campaigning for his second term as President, was widely believed to have rigged the elections in his favor. His main campaign rival, reformist Mir-Hussein Mousavi, along with other political figureheads – such as former President Khatami and current Chair of the Assembly of Experts Rafsanjani – cried foul, but Supreme Leader Khameini formally endorsed the elections and Ahmadinejad was subsequently sworn in as President. Rioters who took to the streets were met with strong police opposition, drawing an unprecedented amount of international attention to Iranian internal affairs.

Office of the Supreme Leader (Official, English)
Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Official, English)
Islamic Consultative Assembly (Official, Persian)
Guardian Council (Official, Persian)