On February 1, 1979, the exiled religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned from France from where he had served as de facto leader of a revolution against the government of the Shah who had gone into exile on January 16, 1979. On February 5, Khomeini appointed Mahdi Bazargan as Prime Minister of a provisional government presided over by a Revolutionary Islamic Council. Khomeini charged Bazargan with responsibility to arrange election of a Constituent Assembly. In a March 31 referendum, 97% of the voters (persons over 16) approved establishment of the "Islamic Republic of Iran." Five days later, the Ministry of the Interior announced that elections for the Constituent Assembly would be held in two months. Implicitly, this meant that a draft constitution must be ready before the first meeting of the Assembly.
A commission appointed by Khomeni and headed by a First Deputy, Hasan Habibi, had prepared an initial draft for such a document in Paris. This draft had been submitted to Khomeini on January 22, 1979 before he returned to Iran. After Khomeini reviewed the draft, Habibi re-worked it with assistance from five civil jurists. An "unofficial" version of this draft was published in a newspaper on April 28-29, 1979. After this, Khomeini appointed a second "Sahabi" commission to make further revisions working in secret. This draft was approved by the Revolutionary Council and published on June 14, 1979. At this point, Khomeini said he saw no need for a Constituent Assembly. Others on the Revolutionary Council still wanted it, so they agreed to create "The Assembly for the Final Debates on the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran," otherwise known as the "Assembly of Experts." The Revolutionary Council approved legislation authorizing election of this 73-member Assembly on July 5, 1979. Elections were held on August 3, 1979, after a four-week campaign, in each province with each delegate who won the most votes to represent 500,000 voters. Severe electoral irregularities and fraud prompted many of the more renowned secular parties and candidates to drop their candidacy in protest against "the undemocratic and unlawful nature of the campaign process" as well as domination by religious leaders. Many fronts and several parties called for a boycott. When it convened, the Assembly of Experts essentially scrapped the work of the Habibi and Sahabi commissions. Seven committees set to work in secret closed session to draft a new document. Transcripts of the debates on the floor of the Assembly were only published six years after the fact. Much of the debate was over the proiposal to create two systems of government: one structured on republican principles; the other a series of "Islamic" institutions, including a "Council of Experts" that could veto legislation and a vali fagh, or supreme leader (Khomeini and his successors), who would nominate candidates for high office and could take over the government.
Upon completion of the Assembly's work on November 15, 1979, the document was submitted to a referendum on December 3, 1979. Official results were not announced until January 1, 1980, almost a full month after it had been ratified. The turnout of 65% contrasts with the 97% who turned out earlier in the year to vote to establish the "Islamic Republic of Iran." The referendum was reported to have been boycotted widely in the minority regions of Kurdistanis, Baluchistanis and Azerbaijanis.