On 30-31 March, 1979 a referendum was held in Iran to determine the political system of the country (Previously the monarchial regime had been overthrown on February 11, 1979).

But the problem with that referendum was that it was not standard. It just had one candidate (e.g. Islamic Republic) and people had to vote either yes or no to that single choice. In other words, other political systems that were representating many people weren't allowed to participate in the process so that the candidate remains the sole opponent of itself in the dictatorship. As a result, above 98% of the voters (with a turnout of above 90%) decided to say yes because there was a huge propaganda advocating the Islamic Republic and also it wasn't clear what would have happened next if they had chosen to say no. Also, the color of ballots (green for Yes, red for No) had a psychological impact on the voters.

My question: Is Iran alone? Are there any other countries besides Iran that have held a referendum to determine the political system of the country after the collapse of the previous one, but only with one choice available?

Update: I'm seeing answerers are making examples of constitutional bill referendums. While constitutional bill referendums do ratificate the political system of the country, it wasn't the case for Iranian referendum. They just asked people to ratificate the political system. A constitutional bill referendum took place in Iran in 1989 (10 years after the revolution). So I think Iran might be still alone in holding a referndum to choose the political system, and a constitutional bill referendum so many years after it. In other countries these referendums are collected in one constitutional bill referendum.

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    Lots of referendums are single question with Yes or No the only answers. The referendum by Britain to leave the EU; the previous one to join the EU; the referendum on Quebec independence. As for narrowing it down to referendums about choosing a political system - how many of those do you think there have been? Jul 8, 2023 at 1:38
  • It doesn't matter if there have been a lot of or a few such a referendum. What matters is that when you organize such a referendum you should include several potential political systems in it, not just one. And I know about single question referendums with Yes or No the only answers. But they are not the case in my question. Jul 8, 2023 at 1:50
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    "You should include several potential political systems in it." Why? When these referendums happen, the details of the political system have already been agreed and what they want is ratification. Ironing out these details for a single system is difficult, agreeing on several different competing systems would be next to impossible. And then, the details do matter. Perhaps I prefer a Republic to a Monarchy, but a Monarchy with lots of personal freedoms to a Republic with fewer personal freedom. The "they must chose between several options" premise is not as evident as you think.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 8, 2023 at 11:40
  • Given that the referendum in your example was 99% in favour, what would be the point in introducing a variety of choices for the 1% to choose between? Jul 8, 2023 at 19:26
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    Your comment makes no sense. If people had wanted something other than an Islamic Republic then they would have voted No. Your last sentence is gibberish. Jul 8, 2023 at 20:14

3 Answers 3


A constitutional referendum was held in Bangladesh on 15 September 1991. Voters were asked "Should or not the President assent to the Constitution (Twelfth Amendment) Bill, 1991 of the People's Republic of Bangladesh?" The amendments would lead to the reintroduction of parliamentary government, with the President becoming the constitutional head of state, but the Prime Minister the executive head. It also abolished the position of vice-president and would see the President elected by Parliament.

The result saw 83.6% vote in favour, with a turnout of 35.2%.

  • Good answer. Mali, Tunisia and Central African Republic all had yes/no constitutional referendums recently. Jul 8, 2023 at 3:19
  • Thank you for your answer. But what I asked about was a referendum to choose the political system after overthrowning the previous regime. I'm not seeking a yes/no referendum of other causes. Jul 8, 2023 at 3:49
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    @SnackExchange Agreeing to a constitution pretty much is choosing a political system. Jul 8, 2023 at 19:23
  • @DJClayworth Well, people of Iran agreed to the constitution 10 years after the 1979 referendum Jul 8, 2023 at 19:47
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    There can be other ways of choosing a political system, but choosing a constitution is definitely one. But I'm beginning to think you are here for an argument, not an answer. Jul 8, 2023 at 20:16

Also, the Referendum of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

Really, your question seems based on the premise that this kind of situation are the exception and not the norm, but you are wrong.

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    But the Iranian referendum lacked a voting for the constitution bill. It just asked people to ratificate the kind of political system. The referendum to ratificate the constitution bill took place in 1989 (10 years after the revolution). Is it also a norm?! Jul 8, 2023 at 11:56

As others have said, it's actually very common for referendums to be a simple Yes/No option.

So-called votes of confidence (in an incumbent regime) also tend to work the same way - Yes or No. Clearly, such votes can "determine the future political system".

I think you're inclined to analyse the Iranian referendum as an ersatz liberal election, designed to express an option between pre-selected candidates for high office, and therefore querying why only one candidate exists on the ballot.

A Yes/No referendum is actually far more democratically powerful - it's capable of expressing rejection of a particular regime, without the voter being forced to endorse any other pre-selected candidate (and without any specific alternative being pre-ordained by the result of the referendum).

It's also worth noting that under liberal regimes, the multiple candidates on a ballot are often carbon-copies politically, so even though there are multiple candidates in a ballot, there is typically only one politics on offer (with alternative candidates assaulted using rich liberal ownership of the media and their selective release of information). The only difference is you can't even vote "No" in liberal elections. So it's not actually that unusual for a ballot to have only one political option.

With 90% turnout and 98% approval, the Iranian referendum would seem far more decisive than the average liberal election - where a candidate may attain or retain high office with say 30% of the electorate on a 30% turnout.

  • But aren't all people important? A percentage of people tend to like a republic. Another percentage like a constitutional monarchy, and so on. So if we put just one option on the ballot for people to vote for the future political system we are practically ignoring other people who dislike that kind of political system. A Yes/No referendum is good, but not when it's about choosing a political system. Jul 8, 2023 at 9:11
  • And the reason for high percentages of turnout and in favour, was simply the fact that people tend to like their revolution and their new leaders. But if another Yes/No referendum to approve/disapprove Islamic Republic was going to be held tomorrow I bet its result would be at most 10% approval. Jul 8, 2023 at 9:24
  • Example of good Yes/No referendum: Should UK leave the European Union? Well, in this case all British people are divided to those who like the idea and those who dislike the idea. Now, a bad Yes/No referendum: Should Islamic Republic be the political system of Iran? Well, in this case all people are divided to those who like the idea and those who dislike it. But in this case, the people who dislike the idea also are divided to like other political systems which represent them. Many people said yes in that referendum because it wasn't clear what happens next if they had said no. Jul 8, 2023 at 9:44
  • @SnackExchange, if you don't like the current regime (or the singular regime offered), you'd simply vote "No". Whilst that doesn't immediately answer what will replace it, it does seem to imply the demise of the rejected regime. So those who don't want the regime in question, are hardly "ignored". I do agree with you though that the Iranian ref was probably held as a show of strength when their popularity was beyond question, not to actually decide or resolve a political question.
    – Steve
    Jul 8, 2023 at 9:52
  • They were ignored because their representative political systems weren't present in the process. Maybe with presence of multiple choices Islamic Republic would lose. Jul 8, 2023 at 9:55

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