The Islamic Republic of Iran has put behind its 30th anniversary. The constitution that was enshrined thirty years ago put into motion forces that have come to full fruition. At the time of the ratification of the constitution in 1979, public attention to details of the constitution was scant and it was readily ratified. However, three decades of implementation of the constitution has highlighted the tension inherent within it. This tension consists of competing notions of sovereignty embodied in the document; a sovereignty that belongs to God, and one that is popular. This contradiction between God’s sovereignty exercised by the jurists and popular sovereignty can be encountered in many articles of the constitution.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic is the focus of this paper; it explores the ways in which the1979 constitution has impeded and or facilitated democratization in Iran. . By examining the arguments of President Khatami and the Reform movement—a strategy that insisted on the full implementation of the constitution—this study sets to demonstrate the ways in which 1979 constitution has become an impediment to transition to democracy. In this regard, a comparison with the 1906 constitution is illuminating. By comparing two constitutions within the same country, each operating within a different socio-economic and political context, the study provides a new insight into the current debate about the relation between structural and agential obstacles that impede and facilitate democratization. Within this theoretical framework, the constitution holds a special place because it is a reflection and product of both structural and agential factors. Hence, the question is posed: To what extent have the 1906 and the 1979 constitutions either prevented or facilitated transition to democracy in Iran?
The importance of this question is evident from the pivotal position that the constitution occupies in the current political debate in Iran. Competing factions have emphasized their political strategy and ideological stance by accepting, rejecting, or calling for constitutional revisions. The June presidential elections, and the crisis ensued in it's aftermath, has once again brought the constitution of the Islamic Republic to the forefront of political debate. The reconciliation of the constitutional tension between Velayat-e Faqih and popular sovereignty remains a major unsolved challenge to democratic transition in Iran.