A Survey of the Development of Local Councils

This article reviews the genesis of the idea of local councils in Iran and the century old legal and political process that led to the actual, albeit incomplete, implementation of the idea. Iranians were introduced to local councils through their contact with European societies in the middle of 19th century. It was, however, the Constitutional revolution that laid the initial foundation for the eventual realization of the idea. Indeed, the advocates and organizers of the early anjomans, or local councils, were instrumental in incorporating the idea in the 1907 Iranian Constitution. However, the absence of requisite economic, social and cultural conditions for the creation of a democratic system of government in this period of Iran’s modern history, necessitated the development of a strong and authoritarian central government.

On the eve of the 1979 revolution, certain material and economic conditions needed for the introduction of local councils into Iranian political structure had been attained. Furthermore, the idea of local autonomy and governance through local councils, at almost every level, dominated the revolutionary discourse. Despite the inclusion of a number of provisions in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, calling for the creation of provincial councils for local administration, elections for these councils took place only after the recent presidential elections. However, a number of factors, including the authoritarian and exclusivist nature of the Islamic political institutions, fear of the revival of separatist tendencies, and the continued influence of a powerful centralized bureaucratic structure, continue to prevent the establishment of local councils with clearly defined administrative and financial decision-making powers and responsibilities.

Asghar Schirazi
Current Issue: 
Past Issue