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Majles (Parliament)

The Majles (technically the Majles-e-Shora-ye Eslami or Islamic Consultative Assembly, also spelled Majlis, the Iranian Parliament) is a unicameral legislative body whose 290 members are publicly elected every four years. It drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the country's budget. The Majles in the Islamic Republic has held in check by the Council of Guardians, the influential oversight body that examines all laws passed to determine their compatibility with sharia, or Islamic law. At times, the council, half of whose members were appointed by the Supreme Leader, had struck down up to 40 percent of the laws passed by Parliament.

Each deputy represents a geographic constituency, and every person sixteen years of age and older from a given constituency votes for one representative. The Majlis cannot be dissolved: according to Article 63, "elections of each session should be held before the expiration of the previous session, so that the country may never remain without an assembly." Article 64 established the number of representatives at 270, but it provided for adding one more deputy, at 10-year intervals, for each constituency population increase of 150,000.

Each of the 290 seats of the Majlis nominally represents constituencies of about 200,000, but distribution favors urban areas. The city of Tehran, for example, had 30 at-large constituencies in 2007, while others had less than 10. Candidates for office at any level may simply declare themselves by filing a registration form and paying a nominal fee. The Ministry of Interior and the Central Oversight Committee of the Guardians Council vet candidates for the Presidency, the Majlis, and Assembly of Experts. Local boards supervise elections at the lowest governmental levels.

A principal requirement for any members of parliament (MP) is his/her deep belief in Islam. Another important qualification for candidacy is a history of participating in the 1978-79 Revolution. Postsecondary education also is relevant for national office. However, the religious minorities recognized by the constitution, the Zoroastrians, the Jews and the Armenian and Assyrian Christians have their own representatives in the Majlis. The first two minorities have one MP each and the Armenians, larger in population, have two MPs for the south and north of Iran. The Assyrians have one MP.

The powers and functions of the Majlis are specified by the constitution (Article 71-90). Under the provisions of the constitution all legislation's must first be approved by the Majlis and then be ratified by the Guardian Council. They are signed into laws by the President. Two more legislative bodies were created in 1988 by Supreme Leader Imam Ayatollah Khomeini. These were the Council for Determination of Exigencies and the Council of Policy Making for Reconstruction. The Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution also had effectively legislative powers on educational matters, though it was not termed a legislative body.

Majlis has a set of internal rules that sets forth the manner of steering its meetings, debating and voting on the bills and motions etc., and the tasks of its committees. According to the rules, the Majlis has a steering board comprising a speaker, two deputy speakers who run the meetings in his absence and a number of secretaries and provisions administrators.

Under the provisions of Article 69 of the constitution, the deliberations of the Majlis must be open, the full report of which is broadcast by the radio and then published verbatim by the Official Gazette. The President, or one of the ministers or 10 MPs may call for a closed meeting of the Majlis. The constitution, however, emphasizes that the resolutions of the closed meeting will only become law if they are passed by a majority of three-quarters of members of parliament (MPs) with Guardian Council members also attending. Ordinary meetings of the Majlis reach quorum by attendance of two-thirds of the MPs, and their resolutions normally become law by simple majority, unless otherwise required by law.

MPs do not have judicial immunity except under Article 86 of the constitution. In May 1988, a motion effectively amounting to a sort of parliamentary immunity for the members was passed in the first reading. It provided for investigating offence committed by the members before and during membership by the courts concerned in Tehran. MPs could only be summoned or subpoenaed through the Majlis. Details of the bill were to be decided in the second reading.

The first Majlis after the Islamic revolution was convened in 1980 and the second Majlis began its terms in 1984. The general election for the third Majlis was held in April 1988, and its terms started in May 1988. People went to the polls for the fourth Majlis in April 1992. Elections were subsequentl held, on schedule, in 1996, 2000, 2004, and scheduled for 2008. Important municipal by-elections were also held in 2006. Hardliners scored victories in 1992 and 1996, holding on to power until the 2006 by-elections saw their power dramatically reduced by a coalition of moderates and reformist politicians.




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