Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran's parliament could pick the country's leaders "in the distant future" rather than having Iranians elect a president by popular vote, the Islamic republic's supreme leader suggested Sunday.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei floated the idea in a speech to university students in western Iran's Kermanshah province on Sunday, according to a transcript posted on his website.
Though he couched the idea in conditional terms, his remarks come amid an ongoing power struggle between the country's clerical leadership and its outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The current political system of the country is presidential, and the president is elected directly by the people. This is a good and effective system," said Khamenei, who has led Iran since 1989. "But if one day, possibly in the distant future, it is felt that a parliamentary system is more suited for electing those responsible for the executive branch, then there would be no problems in making changes in the system."
Khamenei raised the subject himself after being asked about reaching ideals such as justice and freedom under the Islamic system. His allies dominate the Majlis, Iran's parliament, as well as the judiciary, and they have been critical of Ahmadinejad in recent months.
The supreme leader backed Ahmadinejad through the tumult that followed his hotly disputed 2009 re-election, urging Iranians to accept the results of the balloting when protesters in the streets declared it a fraud. Khamenei presided over a crackdown on the demonstrations, during which security forces were unleashed on crowds and activists were prosecuted and jailed.
But Sunday, he noted that the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, eliminated the post of prime minister in the 1980s and suggested the same thing could be done for the presidency.
"Of course, any change and modernization and reviewing of policies must be based on Islamic principles. The changes must also conform with the Constitution," he said. But he added that the Iranian system can manage change "without deviation from the path" of the 1979 revolution that ousted the country's Western-allied monarchy and brought the ayatollahs to power.
CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.