The recent decision to raise gas prices in Iran was essentially taken by three men — the heads of the three branches of government, who form a council set up by the Supreme Leader that is not accountable to the country’s citizens.

Together they make up the Supreme Council of Economic Coordination. Its decision to ration and increase the price of gas in Iran triggered a tsunami of protests in cities across the country.

The decision stipulated that, from the morning of Friday, November 15, the price of a liter of gas rose to 1,500 tomans (13 cents) with ration coupons and 3,000 tomans (26 cents) without. With the spread of protests and the ensuing death of a number of protesters, the government of the Islamic Republic announced the decision to raise prices had not been taken by it, but instead by the council — but stated that the administration would be responsible for implementing it. 

According to Iranian laws, citizens are entitled to file complaints against government decisions with the Court of Administrative Justice. Because the decision about gas prices was not taken by the current administration, the court is unlikely to deal with a complaint about it since the law doesn’t cover the  Supreme Council of Economic Coordination, and anyway, the judiciary itself played a role in the decision since its head sits on the council.

 

Ayatollah Khamenei’s “Anti-Sedition” Council

The Supreme Council of Economic Coordination was set up by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “This council was not formed at the suggestion of the president but the Supreme Leader of the revolution personally made the decision,” President Rouhani has said.

“The Americans have turned their Treasury Department into a war room against Iran and to counter it, an economic council for fighting against the enemy’s sedition must be formed,” said Khamenei on May 31, 2018, shortly after the Trump administration decided the US would abandon the JCPOA [Persian link]. The council’s first meeting took place a few days later in the presence of Khamenei and, according to the Supreme Leader’s website, Khamenei told Rouhani that all decisions by the council must be implemented immediately and did not need to wait for his approval [Persian link]. In December 2018, the interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced that measures approved by the council would be enacted within 48 hours.

The council’s decisions are arrived at via a majority, meaning that two votes out of the three are enough to pass a decree. According to Iranian government officials, including President Rouhani, Ayatollah Khamenei has delegated his powers as the Supreme Leader to the council so it can bring Iran out of the current economic crisis and deal with American sanctions.

Consequently, the Supreme Council of Economic Coordination has the power to carry out its decisions independently. This means that, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, the parliament has played no role in a major economic decision, and that the head of the judiciary now has a say in issues such as the price of gas and how the budget is allocated and spent.

 

Violating the Separation of Powers Principle

Article 57 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution clearly states: “The powers of government in the Islamic Republic are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the [Supreme Leader], in accordance with the forthcoming articles of this Constitution. These powers are independent of each other” [emphasis added]. The Supreme Council of Economic Coordination, however, violates the separation of powers principle by merging the authorities and the responsibilities of the three branches of the government. What is more, the public, the parliament and other government institutions are not necessarily informed before the council’s decisions go into effect.

In addition, some of the decisions made by the council since it came into existence violate existing laws, including the annual Budget Law — all in the name of fighting American sanctions. In the case of increasing gas prices, after the decision was announced many members of the parliament said they had not been told anything about it beforehand whereas, according to law, the government must send a bill to the parliament, the bill must be reviewed by the parliament’s Committee on Finance and after the parliament approves the bill in an open session it must be sent to the Guardian Council, the constitutional arbiter, to approve it.

But that is not what happened with the decision to increase gas prices. It was made by the heads of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and went to effect at 12:00am on Friday, November 15 without going through the necessary steps required by law.

In their deliberations, the members of the council receive support from a limited number of senior officials from their branches: The first vice president, the president’s chief of staff, the head of the Planning and Budget Organization, the vice president for economic affairs, the director general of the Central Bank and the ministers of economy and oil (from the executive branch); the head of the parliament’s Research Center, and heads of the parliamentary committees on planning and budget and economic affairs (from the legislative branch); and the first deputy to the judiciary chief and Iran’s attorney general (from the judiciary). However, this does not change the unconstitutional nature of the council.

The Iranian constitution does not grant the president any special powers, but the constitution does provide for a state of emergency such as war. In such a situation, the government can impose restrictions, but they must be approved by the parliament and can last for 30 days only. If need be, the state of emergency can be extended for more 30-day periods but only after the parliament approves each renewal, not unilaterally by the president.

This article of the constitution, however, has never been invoked. Now, ostensibly to deal with a state of emergency created by American sanctions, Ayatollah Khamenei has bypassed the constitution by creating a council that he originally regarded as and labeled a “counter-sedition” headquarters.

 

Related Coverage:

Murder and Mass Arrests to Silence Behbahan Protesters, November 18, 2019

Schools Closed and Internet Blocked Across Iran, November 18, 2019

Iran Bans Journalists From Reporting on Protests, November 17, 2019

Iran Pulls a “North Korea” by Cutting off Internet in Response to Protests, November 17, 2019

Is Gasoline Really Cheap in Iran?, November 17, 2019

Gas Price Protests Turn Ablaze Across Iran, November 17, 2019

Guards Fear Internal Turmoil as Much as US Attack, November 17, 2019

Who Benefits From the Rise in Gas Prices — The Rich, the Poor or the Regime?, November 16, 2019

Forty Protesters Arrested in Yazd, November 16, 2019

Attack on Kazerun Seminary, November 16, 2019

Iran Gas Price Protests Enter Third Day, November 16, 2019

Iranians Protest After “Sad but Necessary” Decision to Raise Gas Prices, November 15, 2019

 

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