One of Iran's highest-ranking theologians and dissident Shiite clerics, Grand Ayatollah Hassan Ali Montazeri has written a open letter criticising the recent presidential elections, and calling for the urgent amendment of Iran's constitution, which he argues is the principal obstacle to the country's democratisation.
"As an Iranian citizen, I feel the duty - and it is also my right - to pass judgement on the current situation and indicate the way out of this crisis," Montazeri said. The letter describes last month's presidential elections, which saw the unexpected triumph of Tehran's hard-liner mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the run-off, as "disasterous".
In the letter, Montezeri speaks of the "Islamically unhealthy" climate that characterised "elections to choose an institutional figure without executive powers, in a system where others hold the real reins of power".
Montazeri - who is now in his eighties and who helped write the 1979 constitution after Iran's Islamic revolution - contends that it is impossible to build a true democracy without first creating political parties.
The immediate amendment of Iran's constitution is essential to escape from the blind alley in which Iran now finds itself, Montazeri argues. He says there are three essential ways forward to prevent the powers of the state being concentrated in the hands of a single individual. "One route towards democracy is to elect a Spiritual Leader by popular vote, " he said.
"The second path could be to find a person to whom the country's government could be entrusted for a limited period of time, who besides meeting the religious requirements, has leadership qualities," he continued.
"But the best way ahead is that most suited to the times we live in - to completely separate the three branches of the state, making each completely autonomous, and entrusting each of these powers to people who are democratically elected by the Iranian people and answerable to them," Montazeri stressed.
The once heir-apparent to the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Rouhollah Mussawi Khomeini, spent a number of years under house-arrest in the holy city of Qom, for questioning the unaccountable rule exercised by the Iran's current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Montazeri is currently allowed to receive visitors and give lectures, but may not leave Qom.
Montazeri is married to Khomeini's sister, but fell out with Khomeini in 1988, just before Khomeini's death, for criticising official policy on human rights and other issues.