Shah's Confrontations with the Majlis

  January 27, 2022   Read time 3 min
Shah's Confrontations with the Majlis
The Demokrat Fraksiun – also known as the Fraksiun-e ‘Eshayer (Tribal) – was led by: Samsam and As’ad Bakhtiyari; Sowlat Qashqayi, son of the late Sowlat al-Dowleh; and Abbas Qobadian (Amir Makhsus), chief of the Kalhur tribe in Kurdestan.

Notables also dominated the four parliaments that sat in these thirteen years: the Thirteenth (1941–43), Fourteenth (1944–46), Fifteenth (1947–49), and Sixteenth Majles (1950–52). For example, of the 134 deputies in the Fourteenth Majles – the first elected after the abdication – 27 percent were large landlords, 16 percent were civil servants with substantial land, 11 percent were wealthy businessmen, and 6 percent were clerics with land.22 More than 62 percent had been born into landowning families. Professionals and civil servants without land numbered fewer than a handful. What is more, notables dominated Majles through parliamentary parties known as fraksiuns – the term was borrowed from the German Reichstag.

For example, the Fourteenth Majles was divided into four major fraksiuns. The Azadi (Freedom or Liberal) Fraksiun was led by: Muhammad Vali Mirza Farmanfarma, the family’s patriarch; by Abul-Qassem Amini, the grandson of the Amin al-Dowleh who had served as chief minister to both Nasser al-Din Shah and Muzaffar al-Din Shah – the Aminis were descendants of the famous Ashtiyani family; and by Sardar Fakher Hekmat of the Mushar al-Dowleh family that had struggled for generations with the Qavam al-Mulks and the Qashqayis for mastery of Fars. The Demokrat Fraksiun – also known as the Fraksiun-e ‘Eshayer (Tribal) – was led by: Samsam and As’ad Bakhtiyari; Sowlat Qashqayi, son of the late Sowlat al-Dowleh; and Abbas Qobadian (Amir Makhsus), chief of the Kalhur tribe in Kurdestan. Qobadian, like many Bakhtiyari and Qashqayi khans, had been incarcerated by Reza Shah.

The Ettehad-e Melli (National Union) Fraksiun was led by: Sayyed Muhammad Tabatabai and Sayyed Ahmad Behbehani – sons of the two mojtaheds who had led the early constitutional movement; and by Ezatollah Bayat, brother of the premier with the same name, both of whom were major landlords in Arak. The Mehan (Fatherland) Fraksiun was led by Hadi Taheri, Muhammad Namazi, and Hashem Malek-Madani – three wealthy businessmen who had represented Yazd, Shiraz, and Mallayer respectively during the previous twenty years. The Majles also contained a number of prominent independent (mostaqel) deputies: Mossadeq; Sayyed Ziya, the short lived premier of the 1921 coup; Timourtash, son of the murdered minister; and Rahman Khalatbari, heir to the famous Sepahdar.

The deputies, especially the fraksiun leaders, played crucial roles. They dominated the committees that steered legislation into and through parliament – all bills had to be passed by the Majles. They chose premiers and cabinet ministers, and could, at any time, terminate them through a vote of no-confidence. Not surprisingly, cabinets on average lasted less than five months and premiers less than eight months. Exasperated by this revolving door, a British diplomat complained: “It is clear that Persia is not ready for parliamentary democracy. These deputies are an intolerable nuisance unless sat upon.” Despite the turnover, the ministries continued to function reasonably well under permanent under-secretaries.
The government even gained an additional ministry – that of health. The shift of gravity towards the notables can best be seen in the process of electing ministers. In the previous twenty years, the shah had been accustomed to issue a royal farman (decree) to his handpicked premier to head a cabinet, choose for him his ministers, and then dispatch them to the Majles to obtain the needed seal of approval. But in these thirteen years, the normal process was for the Majles, or rather the fraksiun leaders, first to choose their candidate for premier; their candidate then automatically received the royal farman to form a cabinet. The new premier then selected his ministers, drew up a government program, and went to the Majles to receive the needed vote of approval both for his program and ministers. This vote of confidence could be withdrawn at any time. The deputies regained other constitutional powers: immunity from arrest; the right to investigate any subject; and the authority to administer to the shah his oath of office stressing allegiance to the constitutional laws.