Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Revolution and Pro-Democracy Aspirations

A “Referendum” with One Choice

Parviz Osia / Translation by ABC
Ayandegan Newspaper
March 7, 1979
Newspaper article

The referendum to render the “Islamic Republic” an official [political entity] takes place on March 30, 1979. In accordance with the Government’s directive and [based on] printed samples of the ballot, the people can only vote “Yes” or “No” on the following: “Changing the previous regime to an Islamic Republic, the Constitution of which shall be passed by the people”.

The content, form, and spirit of this referendum are in contradiction with the realities of the Iranian Revolution and are inconsistent with and negate freedom for the following reasons:


A. Content of the Referendum

On its face, the text of the referendum pretends to provide freedom to vote to choose between two regimes, but in actuality, it leaves but one option. The people are asked to vote for a particular type of republic before they have determined and clarified the structure of its government. These conclusions are drawn from an analysis of the various parts of the text of the referendum. In this short text, which is not even posed in the form of a question but rather drafted as a statement, five separate parts can be distinguished, the true meaning of each of which (and not their legal subtleties) are important and deserving of attention:

On its face, the text of the referendum pretends to provide freedom to vote to choose between two regimes, but in actuality, it leaves but one option.


  1. “Changing the previous regime”

The previous regime has, in actuality, been overthrown, and the Iranian people have confirmed this fact with their blood:

A short while prior to the Shah fleeing the country, an interim government was appointed and, for all intents and purposes, has been in charge since the fall of Bakhtiar (the Shah’s last prime minister). Some members of the previous regime’s military have been arrested and executed. Some officials of the previous regime are in jail awaiting punishment. Many of the previous regime’s high-ranking officials are in hiding in the country and across the world. The previous regime’s pillars have been destroyed and its fabric, torn. Many people are already asking for the uprooting of what remains of the regime and for the fundamental re-organization of its organs.

From a legal standpoint, the legitimacy of the “change” of regime, stems from and is consolidated by the legitimacy of the revolution itself; that is precisely why the text of the referendum uses the term “previous” in referring to it; the world has officially recognized this reality. From a legal standpoint, the official change of “regime” can materialize through the election of any type of republic in replacing the previous regime.

How, therefore, can the people be called upon to vote and re-recognize the “previous regime”? Was it not that same monarchic regime that the Leader of the movement and of this country’s Muslim people referred to as “Taghuti” (literally referring to Taghut, the Devil, and connoting a “diabolical” and “ungodly” caharacteristic)? Did the people of this country not condemn and throw out that same authoritarian, colonialist regime? Will voting for the previous monarchic regime not be betraying the Revolution in its role as a symbol of Islam or as a symbol of the will of the people? Let us not even consider the fact that it is not even clear what is meant by the “previous regime”: Does it mean restoring the Shah?! Does it mean crowning his son as the monarch?! Or does it simply refer to the monarchic regime, or even another dynasty?! None of the above:

“Change” has already been attained through the victory of the “Revolution”, which itself constitutes fundamental change, and the era of the “previous regime” under the Shah or his son has come to an end; the monarchy has been overthrown and done away with. Therefore, in practice, there is no place for “re-electing” it, and the procedural formality of this change, would have materialized with the election of any type of republic.

That is why under the current circumstances, putting the “previous” monarchic “regime” up to a vote constitutes, at a minimum, disregard for the journey the movement has been through, lack of recognition for the victory of the Revolution, [an act] contrary to the realities of today, and disregard for the will of the people and the conclusion they have reached.


  1. “The Islamic Republic”

With the demise of the “previous regime”, one can only choose the “Islamic republic”. There is no other choice. The result is that from the standpoint of those who have planned and designed this referendum, the people of Iran are but two groups: Those who only want the “Islamic Republic” and those who are “Taghuti” (Shah loyalists), and they can only choose “monarchy” from among Taghuti regimes, i.e. the already dead regime! Whatever else anyone wishes or says is nonsense because the referendum leaves no other alternative. If anyone, for any reason, believes that another system is better and more appropriate for the country, a “democratic republic” or an “Islamic democratic republic” for instance, and wishes to participate in the referendum, such person must either modify the text of the referendum, which would in essence void his/her vote, or forget about partaking in it. Either alternative effectively means not voting, which in turn means the person must be a bystander and relinquish his freedom in the country’s political process.

With the demise of the “previous regime”, one can only choose the “Islamic republic”.

And what does the average person who wants to vote for the “Islamic Republic” actually know about it? What principal aspects of this republic have high religious scholars shed light upon? We are talking about a theocracy. Regular people are ignorant if they oppose it; but if they agree with it, does that actually mean that they are knowledgeable? One cannot divide people into two groups of “the ignorant” and “the knowledgeable” solely on the basis of their agreement or opposition [to the Islamic republic]. Nevertheless, based on this categorization, regular people already have no choice but to “follow” religious scholars: They must [blindly] follow [and obey] them without asking any questions; there’s no need for them to know anything. If they do not, they are either not performing their religious duty, or they’re asking too many questions, or … whatever else … What things one can expect!


  1. “the Constitution of which”

The Islamic Republic’s Constitution shall include the principles of Islamic rule: Such a law goes beyond positing a general framework. Thus far, news of its drafting has leaked through the grapevine here and there. A short while ago, it was rumored that some panel (secret, as usual) was working on a draft. Then news of some of its highlights was heard: It was extremely encouraging; it had a democratic spirit and method. It was perhaps for that very reason that it was announced that that particular draft was unofficial and that the official draft is being examined or worked on by another panel:

What panel? With what kind of authority or qualification? Is it from among the “[Islamic Revolution] Committees”? Is it the “Council of the Revolution” [whose membership] must still remain a secret? Is it composed of high-ranking religious legal scholars? Why is it necessary to keep secret the names and qualifications of those individuals entrusted with the country’s most sensitive task, not only for our time, but for future generations? The work of the “committees” is transient; the work of the “Council of the Revolution” is transient, but the work of the panel engaged in drafting the Constitution is not: It has lasting effects on the country’s structure and foundation. Would it be too much for the people to want to know who the people that are engaged in planning their destinies are? Are they to just sit and wait patiently for some hot new draft to be issued by this panel, and for them, the people, to just approve? How?

Would it be too much for the people to want to know who the people that are engaged in planning their destinies are?


  1. “passed by the people”

The text of the referendum expressly states that the Constitution of the Islamic republic shall be “passed by the people”. The text does not make any references to the Constitutional Assembly. This silence, leaves the organizers of the referendum to establish such an Assembly in the future if they wish, or to have another referendum if they do not, and thus consider either of these scenarios as “passed by the people”, that is, in exchange for the power they give the people to choose a regime, they take the power to pick either one of those two paths on their behalf. Why? Do the people still need guardians and keepers [or masters]?

Having said that, regardless of which path is taken, there is a point that is left to [be decided in] the future: “When the Constitution shall be passed by the people.”


  1. “shall be”

If the draft Constitution, after the establishment of the Constitutional Assembly, “shall be” enacted by the people, won’t the authority to establish such an Assembly, that is, the will of the people, be a derivative authority? That is necessarily the conclusion one reaches given the silence of the current text about a Constitutional Assembly. In this referendum, the people are not asked to express their clear and direct will regarding such an Assembly.

Therefore, passage by the people is done through the Constitutional Assembly representatives, that is, indirectly, without the people having given their opinion on its very establishment.

If the intention is to have the draft Constitution written by the secret panel and have the entirety of the Constitution put to a vote by the people in another referendum, as it appears to be the case from the silence in the text, then we will be forced to give another “yes” or “no” vote, much like the “single Article” laws of the previous regime.

It is self-evident that the vote must be a “yes” vote, because we cannot remain without a Constitution. In the interim, it is possible that the people might be given a chance to express their views about the text of the Constitution prior to the referendum; it is not clear, however, which authority is charged with heeding and considering their viewpoints.

Is this pessimism about the future? I do not think so. With the example we have before us, it is not pessimism but vigilance.

With the example we have before us, these concerns are not pessimism, but vigilance.


B. The Form of the Referendum

The form and process a referendum takes reflects its contents. White, green, and pink-colored ballots, the voter’s first and last name and address, and the supervising council in cooperation with “Islamic Revolution Committees” is indicative of that fact.


  1. The color of the ballot:

Let us assume, as the planners of the referendum have, that a number of persons, with complete disregard for the actual result of the popular revolution, still believe that the “previous” monarchic “regime” is to return, and are free to so vote, a “no” vote expressed by a pink ballot; that way, everyone will see the level of their brazenness. What is surprising these days is that if someone supports the “previous regime” in the street and in an unofficial manner, the people will not forgive his/her betrayal; but the planners of the referendum give such a person the freedom to openly and officially vote for the previous regime! Can one then not ask what kind of freedom was attained through the Revolution and what kind of Revolution this is that gives the supporters of the “previous regime” the right to openly express their opinion but does not give anyone else the freedom to express their opinion in support of, for instance, a “democratic Islamic republic” in this referendum? The result is that supporters of the “previous regime” and supporters of the Islamic Republic” have the same exact equal right and freedom to vote, but the others are deprived of such right and freedom.


  1. Voter details:

General elections throughout the world are done with secret ballots; without it, there is no freedom. The voter’s identifying details are never written on a ballot in any free elections. What happens is that the voter’s identity is checked separately. Therefore, a ballot of this kind, destroys the voter’s freedom to vote the way he/she wishes, even if we rightly assume that religious sentiment and fervor in agreeing with a particular type of regime has saturated the environment and that popular sentiment in opposing the other type of regime, the cost of which was the blood of thousands of martyrs, is rightly very high.

The truth is that such a freedom does not exist and that is what this Revolution that has defeated the oppression of the previous regime, demands. Why then pretend that the supporters of the “previous regime” are free to express their support for that regime? Just to identify them?! One can reach no other conclusion than that requiring people to write down their first and last name and even their address would have any other purpose.


  1. The Supervisory council

According to the published guidelines of the referendum, the supervisory council will work in cooperation with “Islamic Revolution Committees”, committees that have described themselves as charged with the supervision of the elections to make the Islamic Republic regime official. They are charged, pursuant to the requirements of this referendum, with the responsibility of registering the names and particulars of all voters, and observing the votes in favor and opposed, by looking at the ballots, distinguishing between Islamic green and monarchic pink. This is not freedom of elections.


  1. International observation

It was said that a panel of international observers would be invited to observe the proper implementation of the elections. If they do come, they will be coming to see that everyone will freely put the green “yes” ballots in the boxes. And they will see with their own eyes that no one is prohibited to put a pink ballot in the box because no one has come to actually cast a pink ballot and so there’s no need to prevent them from doing so. Supposing that someone combines betrayal with insanity and comes for a “no” vote, puts the vote in the ballot box and leaves; so will the international observers. What will remain, however, is the “no” voter’s particulars and the Committees… This is not how freedom of elections is supposed to be.


C. The Spirit of the Referendum

What more can be said of the spirit of this referendum: Is this an “Islamic” referendum?

I don’t believe so, I don’t know. But I do know that its spirit and nature is not based on freedom. A look at the reality of the situation of women and of religious minorities, who are free to participate in this referendum, in accordance with its guidelines, sheds light on some of the issues:


  1. The Situation of Women

All women may participate in this referendum, just like men, without any limitations on their voting. But what political regime should they vote for? They too, have but one option. They must give in to the former  system of dominance by males/husbands, much like what we witnessed with the halting and termination of the Law for the Protection of the Family. They must, through their vote in this referendum, accept that the man can come home with another woman anytime he so chooses and introduce her as his second or umpteenth wife to his previous wives; she must vote for things to go back to the way they were, as if her struggles in this Revolution were for this reason: To vote to strip themselves of the rights they now possess and return to the way things were centuries ago and to the limitations of their ancestors…

In this referendum, women are free to put limitations on themselves, and are equal with men in accepting their inequality.

In this referendum, women are free to put limitations on themselves, and are equal with men in accepting their inequality.


  1. Religious minorities

Religious minorities may also partake in the referendum. What is in question, however, is the nature of their participation: All religious minorities, Dhimmi (historical term referring to non-Muslims living in an Islamic state under legal protection of the state) or not, must vote for a religious regime whose religion is not theirs.

This is not difficult to justify as they are living in a society whose majority has a different religion. But if another option were available in this referendum for the type of government that is to be selected, one without the religious condition attached to it, religious minorities would at least be voting as Iranians and would be equal to their Muslim brothers and sisters and not as a malignant growth within another people – though those people have always treated them with the utmost tolerance and the religious leaders of this Revolution have reiterated that their specific rights are to be respected. What is in question is the manner of their participation and voting, given the subject matter of the referendum, the result of which will now be to once again, and in absolute terms, make official their inequality with the majority of Iranians, and not grant them their equal human rights. Where is their place in the political sphere of religious rule? They are now free to vote in this referendum to be deprived of even the little space they held before.



As mentioned in the beginning, this referendum completely disregards the path of the development and the results and consequences of the Revolution, divides the people into supporters of the monarchy and of Islamic rule, and leaves no room for the expression of any other viewpoint.

What would happen if the referendum provided two real choices to the people, a “republic” and “Islamic rule”?

Perhaps the results would be no different but the integrity of the Revolution would remain intact and the “Spring of Freedom” would not turn to autumn so quickly. Using the term “republic” would not negate Islam at all, but because it is free from any constraints and fanaticisms, would further cause Islam’s humanist aspects and its rich and grand culture to flourish.

What would happen if the referendum provided two real choices to the people, a “republic” and “Islamic rule”?

This referendum has been designed in such a way as to make the results show unanimity in favor of the “Islamic Republic”, and they will. Does such unanimity arise, however, from the people’s true opinions, or from the way the question has been shaped and posed? Who is it that would not know, or would believe the apparent form to be the same as the truth of the matter? Can a referendum devised in this form truly be assessing public opinion? Will the responses of those who vote in such a referendum be a true response based on freedom of choice? The truth is that there is absolutely no freedom of choice: This referendum is not a real referendum [trying to ascertain what public opinion is], but a process to make official what has been selected for the people from the top echelons, by the people at the top. Real choice and real freedom would lie in this “referendum” if that were not the case.

March 4, 1979