The Guardian Council

The Guardian Council has three functions. First, it screens candidates for state elections and has the authority to disqualify those Iranians it deems unfit from running. Secondly, it supervises elections. And third it can veto or demand changes to legislation passed by the Iranian parliament. The Guardian Council has twelve members—six constitutional law experts who are nominated by the chief justice and approved by parliament and six Islamic law experts who are appointed by the supreme leader. But under the constitution, the supreme leader appoints the chief justice, thus solidifying his control over the Guardian Council’s membership in its entirety. The Guardian Council has resorted to mass disqualifications of candidates in state elections to engineer results. In the June 2021 presidential election, it disqualified 585 candidates, and only approved seven to run on the final ballot. The Guardian Council’s vetting has become so onerous that former presidents, speakers of parliament, cabinet ministers, and vice presidents have been routinely disqualified through the years—part of a systemic effort to control the political system in line with the supreme leader’s vision. In terms of legislation, the Guardian Council, according to one study by Mehrzad Bouroujerdi and Kourosh Rahimkhani between 1980 and 2015, approved over 80 percent of legislation passed by the parliament. The only exception was the parliamentary term between 2000 and 2004, where there was a 75.9 percent passage rate. The increased rejections during this period coincided with the reformist victory during the 2000 parliamentary election. 

The Guardian Council’s secretary is the nonagenarian Ahmad Jannati, who has served as a member of the Guardian Council since 1980, and as secretary since 1992. The other clerical members are trusted lieutenants of Iran’s supreme leader, some of whom have been mentioned as potential future supreme leaders—particularly Alireza Arafi and Ahmad Khatami. There is an overlap in membership between the Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts, especially with Jannati serving as chairman of the Assembly of Experts in addition to his role as secretary of the Guardian Council. Recently, Sadegh Larijani, a former chief justice, resigned as a member of the Guardian Council after his brother Ali Larijani was disqualified from running in the 2021 presidential election. This represented a rare public airing of fissures within the Guardian Council—with the Larijani political dynasty being marginalized from the inner circles of power in the Islamic Republic.

Secretaries of the Guardian Council:

  • Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani
    1980
  • Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani
    1980-1988
  • Mohammad Mohammadi-Gilani
    1988-1992
  • Ahmad Jannati
    1992-present