How to Keep the Political Power in Check? A Comparative Assessmentof the Iranian Constitutions of 1906-7 and 1979

In premodern Iranian political thought, the question of how to govern was far less discussed than the question of who gets to rule, with little elaboration on institutions or groups to effectively oversee the rulers. The available literature has mainly focused on internal and external tools of checks and balances based on virtue and on general ethical precepts such as taghva, adl, or amre beh maroof va nahye az monkar, available to the subjects and more importantly to the ulama. The 1905 Revolution was a turning point whose key demand was to make the arbitrary power of the monarch subject to the constitution. While this movement ultimately ended in authoritarianism, 70 years later, another revolution replaced the monarchy by Velayateh Faqih in the form of the Islamic Republic. This paper attempts to examine the degree of departure of both constitutions and their amendments from the classical ethicist guidelines towards functional, coherent, checks-and-balances mechanisms. Three key questions will be discussed. First, what were the Legislators’ interpretations and conceptions of sovereignty, legitimacy and representation? Second, what mechanisms were suggested to keep the power in check? Finally, what are the key contrasts between these constitutional devises and the European constitutions which inspired them?