US Constitution vs. Iran’s Constitution

As an Islamic republic, Iran’s constitution can vary quite differently to that of the US’. The Iranian constitution is of a much younger age only being codified in 1979 following a referendum and thus replacing the 1905 constitution. The US’ however is the grandfather of all, being ratified in 1788.

Being a country under is Islamic rule the constitution has a difficult and confusing position. It has been described as a hybrid of theocratic and democratic. In the first two articles, it states that sovereignty is vested in Allah (God) while article 6 it mandates popular elections for presidency and parliaments. All laws have a final decision by the Supreme Leader who has a life tenure – unless dismissed by the ‘Assembly of Experts’ who also appoints the supreme leader. The Assembly of Experts is democratic, although confusing. In summary, 88 elected members – who have to be approved by the supreme leader – sit to make decisions on the Supreme Leader. Another important party is the Guardian Council who is a 12-member body who supervise elections, approve candidates and ensure the constitution is abided to. A majority of the constitution stems from Islamic law and so is quite similar to other Islamic countries each with key differences in their earthly sovereign rule. Chapter Eight (Articles 107-112) spell out the powers of the supreme leader. Article 146 dictates there should be no foreign military bases in Iran – even for peaceful purposes. Although Article 175 guarantees freedom of expression in Radio & Television, it almost contradicts itself by then creating an organisation who will help keep media to Islamic criteria and to the best interests of the country.

As stated the US Constitution is the grandfather of many constitutions as its the first that still remains in use today. There is very little to say about religion in the US constitution which vastly contrasts the Iranian constitution. The US constitution also lays out a very different operation in terms of the bodies used in government. The government is lead by a president who is elected every four years by a nationwide popular vote using a controversial voting system named the electoral college. The first 10 ‘amendments’ are known as the bill of rights that give protections to liberty & justice and rules to place restrictions on government. The remaining 17 amendments expand on individual civil rights. The constitution still remains on 4 pages of parchment paper as which it was originally written on. Unlike other codified constitutions the US’ amendments are appended (attached to the bottom) to the original document rather than changing it. The first three words are ‘We the people’ and many take this as an affirmation that the government’s main purpose is to serve the citizens.

 

Weimar Germany: What it is and What it Taught us

Weimar Germany. Oh, how it reminds me of GCSE History, where it was such a big part to me. It gives a very real visualisation of how constitutions don’t really work and why proportional representation is good in theory, but in practice just prevents anything from happening.

How and when did the weimar constitution come to be?

Just after the First World War, the Kaiser of Germany (Basically, the king), Kaiser Wilhelm II, fled to the Netherlands in 1918. By February 1919, the most popular party’s leader, Friedrich Ebert from the ‘Social Democratic Party of Germany’ (SPD) formed the Weimar Constitution in Weimar, Germany because Berlin was too dangerous from the spartacists involvement in the German revolution. They set up parliament in the Reichstag in central Berlin after the revolution was dampened.

How did the constitution work and why did this go wrong?

The members of the Reichstag were elected using proportional representation, meaning the % of votes from the citizens equaled the % of seats the party was offered in the Reichstag. In principal most citizens would be happy. It truly represents the wishes of the country and this would always show in the Reichstag where the laws are made. This started causing problems almost immediately. For anything to effectively happened it would require 50 percent of the votes, which would imply requiring a party having 50% of the seats or at least those with a similar view – hence coalitions became a thing. Coalitions in general don’t work too well because the government parties don’t really agree, and only do it so that they can actually form a government.

At its peak the Reichstag contained 41 different parties, which meant the weimar government never had a non-coalition government. The use of proportional representation allowed extremist parties into the Reichstag because of the low numbers of national votes required to get at least one seat. Because of the large variety of view expressed, the government would rarely make ‘proper’ non-watered down laws. This would also lead to annoyed leaders abusing Article 48, ‘Powers for the Protection of People and the State’ – which means when active they could pass any laws without passing them through the Reichstag. This is what Hitler later uses to become as powerful as he did. Elections were also particularly common, sometimes multiple happening in the same year. Because of the increase in debate because of the number of parties, it allowed the Nazi Party alongside others to cause a ruckus and to effectively force the government to make decisions, (such as Hitler becoming chancellor.)

Was there anything good as a result?

During the weimar Germany years, there was: although rarely anything because of action from the Reichstag. A majority was from the Foreign Minister Gustav Stressemann who was able to reform the international relations lost during the First World War; which would be later lost again because of the Second World War.

Weimar Germany taught us the ineffectiveness of Coalitions, and still stands as a major fear during elections, as seen in the 2017 United Kingdom General Election.

 

Australia & Same-Sex Marriage

Australia’s history of equal marriage is somewhat rocky, and we’re soon to reach a pinnacle moment.

Marriage equality has been hotly debated, especially in recent years. A major turning point was the US’ decision to unanimously offer same-sex marriages to couples in all 50 states, but that still hasn’t changed many countries positions on the issue:

1

The key is available in the footnote, but in general, the deep blue colour is where same sex marriage is legalised.

How The Vote Came to be

The then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott held a six-hour emergency meeting in August 2015. The policy was quite vague then, wether it would be a plebiscite, referendum or survey. Turnball, Australia’s current Prime Minister had previously voted against it, but adopted the policy in September 2015 when he became leader. After a lot of arguing and debates, the idea of having a legally binding plebiscite was scrapped in place of a simple ‘postal survey’ where the government are simply asking all citizens how they feel on the issue.

The Vote

Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

The question is fairly simple. As with most votes there is a yes and no campaign running in mainstream media, each with political parties and celebrities backing them. Legally, this is only a survey because it is run by the ‘Australian Bureau of Statistics’ and not by the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission).

This means the postal survey is not legally binding. A yes vote win will allow MPs to vote on a same-sex marriage bill, and if a no vote wins, they won’t be allowed to vote on it.

What next?

Survey forms will be sent out on September 12th, with the latest return date being November 7th. The result will be announced on November 15th, with the vote, if any, will be expected shortly after.

You can be sure there will be a high level of media coverage.

More information

Same-sex marriage in Australia in general: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_of_same-sex_unions_in_Australia
The referendum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Marriage_Law_Postal_Survey
Buzzfeed has many answers: https://www.buzzfeed.com/lanesainty/email-me-your-questions-please?utmterm=.inJNqnar2
Main yes campaign: http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/home
Main no campaign: https://www.coalitionformarriage.com.au/

Personal Response

This is an ‘issue’ that shouldn’t be an issue. Many people have somewhat reasonable reasons for not support same-sex marriage, but in almost all cases, these people have never been in the shoes of a gay person and have never witnessed what the campaigning against their love is doing to them. That said, I am intrigued to see the survey response, as I say about many foreign nations, every country is different and so their citizens are different. We may see a different response to that we would expect from a British parliament.

  1. Used with permission from https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_marriage-equality_laws.svg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Kwamikagami ↩︎
 

Gerrymandering and Why it Matters.

This is a term that isn’t used particularly often and when I came across it, I didn’t know what it meant. It was after research when I went ’That would never be allowed’, which then lead to a surprise.

What is Gerrymandering?

The dictionary gives quite a good description of gerrymandering:

(to) Manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favour one party or class.

It really is that simple.

Not simple? I’ll break it down. In the UK we have 650 constituencies, but this is changing in 2018 as part of the ‘Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster Constituencies.’ 1 In this case it was to reduce the number of seats in the house of commons, and because the number of constituencies has to match the number of seats in the house, some borders would have to change and other areas merge. 2

But how were the borders decided? This is where gerrymandering can take place. Let’s use the totally real, ‘Blue Crocodile Party’ I promise that isn’t defamatory. If the BCP knew where all their voters lived (down to the local ward would where it would be useful,) they could use this information to make sure the borders were drawn in such a way that all their voters are in the same constituencies and therefore would have a higher chance of getting the most votes for that seat, giving them a higher chance of becoming the house’s main party. But that’s only if they have a say in how the borders are grouped.

The UK’s four boundary commissions (one for each constituent country) are very aware of this, and so there are only four members of each commission of which three can make decisions. (The speaker of the house, at the moment John Bercow 3, is the ex officio chairman of each body.) These members are independent and impartial and in most cases have to use official statistics to help them draw the boundaries at Parliaments request. Their boundaries are continuously scrutinised and there is almost always a public consultation.

Has gerrymandering happened before?

As explained, there is a very little chance of this happening in the UK and so there are very few examples of where boundaries have been allegedly gerrymandered. If we take a look at our friends across the pond, it looks like a different story. The US history4 is littered with people being paid or bribed to redraw voting districts into a certain way, and as each state draws their own, there isn’t an easy way to adjudicate this. Some states have introduced committees to draw their boundaries, but only a few of these are independent commissions. The US has been criticised multiple times due to their lack of legislation.

How can gerrymandering be stopped?

There are multiple ways we could stop gerrymandering happening, which are explained in the video at the end of the article. But I see gerrymandering as proof of a much bigger problem. The problem of each citizen only getting one vote. This then leads to the bigger question about wether ‘First Past The Post’ is sufficient in today’s Britain, or perhaps it needs to replaced by another voting system.

Gerrymandering in a nutshell:

If you have a little more time CGPGrey will tell you the same thing, but in a nicer video:

  1. Information about this review can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Periodic_Review_of_Westminster_constituencies ↩︎
  2. A map of this can be seen here: http://constituencyboundaries.uk/ ↩︎
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bercow ↩︎
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#United_States ↩︎