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Political Parties

During the final years of the Pahlavi monarchy, only a single, government-sponsored political party, the Rastakhiz, operated legally. Nevertheless, several legally proscribed political parties continued to function clandestinely. These included parties that advocated peaceful political change and those that supported the armed overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Among the former parties were the National Front, which actually was a coalition of democratically inclined political parties and other organizations that originally had been founded in 1949; the Nehzat-e Azadi-yi Iran, or the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM), established in 1961 by democratically inclined clergy and laymen; and the Tudeh Party, a Marxist party that had been founded in 1941.

The overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy allowed a full spectrum of Islamic, leftist, and secular ideas supporting the Revolution to flourish. With the exception of the monarchist Rastakhiz, which had dissolved, the prerevolutionary parties were reactivated, including the militant armed political Mojahedin and Fadayan organizations. In addition, several new parties were organized. These included secular parties, such as the National Democratic Front and the Radical Party; religious parties, such as the IRP and the Muslim Peoples' Republican Party; and leftist parties, such as the Paykar. All these parties operated openly and competitively until August 1979, when the Revolutionary Council forced the provisional government to introduce regulations to restrict the activities of most political parties.

Many of the opposition parties that were suppressed inside the country were reorganized abroad. In 1987 more than a dozen political parties were active among the Iranian exile communities in Western Europe, the United States, and Iraq. All of these parties belonged to one of four broad ideological groups: monarchists, democrats, Islamicists, and Marxists. With the notable exception of the Mojahedin and the ethnic Kurdish parties, the expatriate opposition parties eschewed the use of political violence to achieve their shared goal of overthrowing the regime in Tehran.

The Islamic Republican Party was the dominant party until political parties were banned in 1987. Political parties were again legalized in 1998. However, official political activity was permitted only to groups that accept the principle of political rule known as velayat-e faqih, literally, the guardianship of the faqih (religious jurist), better known as the Supreme Leader. Allegiances, still based on special interests and patronage, remained fluid. The constitution allows for the formation of political parties, although the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties with ideological and practical adherence to the system of government embodied in the constitution. Although the constitution does not ban political parties, very few organizations were granted the registration required by the Political Parties Act of 1981. Those that have been registered include various factions of the Islamic clergy and various apolitical groups. The Council of Guardians must also approve all candidacies for the Majlis. Nevertheless, two main factions emerged within this limited political space. One group, the Principlists, were often characterized by analysts as the radical or hardline clergy. They supported a state-dominated economy and the promotion of Islam abroad. The other faction, the Reformists, was seen to support President Rafsanjani's attempts to liberalize the economy and seek out foreign investments and technology.

Elections for the legislative assembly have been held every four years since 1980. In 1998, 18 parties joined in a broad coalition called the Second of Khordad coalition. All were reformist parties that supported the political and economic proposals of President Mohammad Khatami. In the early 2000s, internal differences over specific economic policies hampered the coalition's effectiveness. During that period, the conservatives were more united, despite the existence of several major conservative parties. The Islamic Iran Builders Council (known as Abadgaran) emerged as a powerful conservative coalition beginning in 2003, leading the conservatives to victory in the 2004 parliamentary elections and the 2005 presidential election. Conservatives also prevailed in the 2008 parliamentary elections.

Formal political parties were a relatively new phenomenon in Iran and most conservatives still preferred to work through political pressure groups rather than parties, and often political parties or coalitions were formed prior to elections and disbanded soon thereafter.

There were more than 240 registered political organizations in 2010 that generally operated without restriction or outside interference, but most were small entities, often focused around an individual, and did not have nationwide membership. Members of political parties and individuals with any political affiliation that the government deemed unacceptable faced harassment, violence, and sometimes imprisonment. The two leading reformist political parties, Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, were banned in September 2010.

Unlike previous general elections in which the two mainstream political factions - Principlists (right-leaning conservatives) and Reformists (leftist radicals), the 2013 election saw at least three political tendencies run for the presidency. They were classified as follows: Principlists (coalitions, independent candidates and Perseverance Front), Reformists (moderate and radical figures) and government affiliates.

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Page last modified: 15-12-2015 20:13:18 ZULU