Duality by Design: The Iranian Electoral System

Publication Date: 
29 Mar 2011

Publication Type:


The Islamic Republic has held 29 elections since its inception in 1979. Legislative, presidential, Assembly of Experts, local council elections and referendums have provided the electorate with a platform to exercise political participation. The degree to which this platform is perceived to be democratic, free and fair is intensely debated – particularly in the aftermath of the June 2009 presidential election. Yet, it is impossible to evaluate the nature and the outcome of any particular election in Iran without accurate knowledge and proper understanding of the country’s electoral system.

This report will provide an overview of the context under which elections take place in Iran. It sheds light on the “rules of the game” for the most politically significant elections including, parliamentary, presidential and local council elections. An examination of the legal provisions governing the supervision and conduct of elections as prescribed in the constitution and five supplementary electoral laws informs the basis of this study. Instead of providing normative analysis on a particular poll, this report presents empirical data on the results of elections held over the past three decades, and offers an inclusive and exhaustive picture of elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Since Iran has more than a century of electoral experience, the second chapter of the report provides a historical perspective of elections in Iran from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The current electoral system is, in many ways, a patchwork of historical and current Iranian realities; therefore, knowledge of the past is essential for understanding the present. The third chapter provides a summary of the legal framework governing elections in the Islamic Republic. Presidential, parliamentary and local council electoral laws and bylaws provide the rules for candidate eligibility, voter qualifications, elections administration, the power and functions of executive committees, election violations, and complaint resolution mechanisms. Two supplementary codes on election supervision define the role of the Guardian Council in the monitoring and verification of election processes. The fourth chapter provides an overview of Iran’s election management bodies (EMBs). In this chapter, the powers and functions of the Guardian Council and its supervisory committees are presented, and a detailed description of the role of the Ministry of Interior in the administration of elections is provided. Chapters five, six and seven outline the electoral systems for parliamentary, presidential and local council elections, respectively.