This is another in a series of occasional posts on countries that have actively debated introducing a semi-presidential constitution, but that eventually decided not to do so.
I have very few details of the Iranian case, but my attention was drawn to it when I came across an article by H. E. Chehabi, ‘Religion and Politics in Iran: How Theocratic is the Islamic Republic?’, in Daedalus, vol. 120, no. 3, 1991, pp. 69-91.
On p. 76 of this article Chehabi describes how, in the immediate overthrow of the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran from exile, a number of French-educated Islamic figures “produced the draft of a semipresidential constitution in June 1979 that borrowed heavily from that of the French Fifth Republic …”. Chehabi states that Khomeini accepted the draft, but that it was opposed by both Islamists and secular figures and that it was soon amended.
I have not been able to obtain a copy of the June 1979 draft. So, I cannot confirm that the draft constitution was semi-presidential as defined by this blog. However, while the December 1979 constitution was clearly theocratic, the semi-presidential origins of the constitution were still clearly visible.
In the 1979 constitution, the president was directly elected (and still is, of course!). Art. (or Principle) 124 stated “The president will nominate a person as prime minister and after obtaining a vote of endorsement from the National Consultative Assembly, he will issue the oath of office to the prime minister.” Art. 135 stated: “The prime minister stays in office as long as he has a vote of confidence from the assembly.” Art. 87 stated: “The Council of Ministers, after its formation and introduction to the assembly, and prior to any move or action, should obtain a vote of confidence from the assembly. Likewise, when it faces difficult and controversial issues during its incumbency it can request the assembly to express its view in the form of a vote of confidence.” Art. 89 stated: “Representatives of the assembly can in cases deemed necessary interpellate the Council of Ministers … If the assembly does not arrive at a vote of confidence, then the Council of Ministers or the minister will be dismissed.”
A translation of the constitution is available in Middle East Journal, vol. 34, no. 2, 1980, pp. 181-204 translated by R. Ramazani.
An article by Said Amir Arjomand, available online here, suggests that some of the typical consequences of French-style semi-presidentialism also manifested themselves. He states: “Tension between the President and the Prime Minister immediately became acute, and has never abated. In fact, it was one of the reasons for the amendment of the Constitution and the abolition of the office of Prime Minister in 1989.”
As the above quote indicates, the 1979 constitution was amended heavily in 1989.