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Iranian Politics

1980-1989: Politics in a Time of War

Bani Sadr's program as the first President of post-revolution Iran, coming to power after the resignation of Bazargan, was to reestablish central authority, gradually to phase out the Pasdaran and the revolutionary courts and committees and to absorb them into other government organizations, to reduce the influence of the clerical hierarchy, and to launch a program for economic reform and development. Against the wishes of the IRP, Khomeini allowed Bani Sadr to be sworn in as president in January 1980, before the convening of the Majlis. Khomeini further bolstered Bani Sadr's position by appointing him chairman of the Revolutionary Council and delegating to the president his own powers as commander in chief of the armed forces. On the eve of the Iranian New Year, on 20 March 1980, Khomeini issued a message to the nation designating the coming year as "the year of order and security" and outlining a program reflecting Bani Sadr's own priorities.

Nevertheless, the problem of multiple centers of power and of revolutionary organizations not subject to central control persisted to plague Bani Sadr. Like Bazargan, Bani Sadr found he was competing for primacy with the clerics and activists of the IRP. The struggle between the president and the IRP dominated the political life of the country during Bani Sadr's presidency. Bani Sadr failed to secure the dissolution of the Pasdaran and the revolutionary courts and committees. He also failed to establish control over the judiciary or the radio and television networks. Khomeini himself appointed IRP members Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti as chief justice and member Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili as prosecutor general (also seen as attorney general). Bani Sadr's appointees to head the state broadcasting services and the Pasdaran were forced to resign within weeks of their appointments.

Parliamentary elections were held in two stages in March and May 1980, amid charges of fraud. The official results gave the IRP and its supporters 130 of 241 seats decided (elections were not completed in all 270 constituencies). Candidates associated with Bani Sadr and with Bazargan's IFM each won a handful of seats. Other left-of-center secular parties fared no better. Candidates of the radical left-wing parties, including the Mojahedin, the Fadayan, and the Tudeh, won no seats at all. IRP dominance of the Majlis was reinforced when the credentials of a number of deputies representing the National Front and the Kurdish-speaking areas, or standing as independents, were rejected. The consequences of this distribution of voting power soon became evident. The Majlis began its deliberations in June 1980. Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a cleric and founding member of the IRP, was elected Majlis speaker. After a two-month deadlock between the President and the Majlis over the selection of the Prime Minister, Bani Sadr was forced to accept the IRP candidate, Mohammad Ali Rajai. Rajai, a former street peddler and school teacher, was a Beheshti protg. The designation of cabinet ministers was delayed because Bani Sadr refused to confirm cabinet lists submitted by Rajai. In September 1980, Bani Sadr finally confirmed fourteen of a list of twenty-one ministers proposed by the prime minister. Some key cabinet posts, including the ministries of foreign affairs, labor, commerce, and finance, were filled only gradually over the next six months. The differences between president and prime minister over cabinet appointments remained unresolved until May 1981, when the Majlis passed a law allowing the prime minister to appoint caretakers to ministries still lacking a minister.

The president's inability to control the revolutionary courts and the persistence of revolutionary temper were demonstrated in May 1980, when executions, which had become rare in the previous few months, began again on a large scale. Some 900 executions were carried out, most of them between May and September 1980, before Bani Sadr left office in June 1981. In September the chief justice finally restricted the authority of the courts to impose death sentences. Meanwhile a remark by Khomeini in June 1980 that "royalists" were still to be found in government offices led to a resumption of widespread purges. Within days of Khomeini's remarks some 130 unofficial purge committees were operating in government offices. Before the wave of purges could be stopped, some 4,000 civil servants and between 2,000 and 4,000 military officers lost their jobs. Around 8,000 military officers had been dismissed or retired in previous purges.

As the government eliminated the political opposition and successfully prosecuted the war with Iraq (which had begun in September 1980 after a series of border skirmishes), it also took further steps to consolidate and to institutionalize the achievements of the Revolution. The government took several measures to regularize the status of revolutionary organizations. It reorganized the Pasdaran and the Crusade for Reconstruction as ministries (the former in November 1982 and the latter in November 1983), a move designed to bring these bodies under the aegis of the cabinet, and placed the revolutionary committees under the supervision of the minister of interior. The government also incorporated the revolutionary courts into the regular court system and in 1984 reorganized the security organization led by Mohammadi Rayshahri, concurrently the head of the Army Military Revolutionary Tribunal, as the Ministry of Information and Security. These measures met with only limited success in reducing the considerable autonomy, including budgetary independence, enjoyed by the revolutionary organizations.

An seperate Assembly of Experts was elected in December 1982 and convened in the following year to determine the successor to Khomeini. Khomeini's own choice was known to be Montazeri. The assembly, an eighty-three-member body that is required to convene once a year, apparently could reach no agreement on a successor during either its 1983 or its 1984 session, however. In 1985 the Assembly of Experts agreed, reportedly on a split vote, to name Montazeri as Khomeini's "deputy" (qaem maqam), rather than "successor" (ja-neshin), thus placing Montazeri in line for the succession without actually naming him as the heir apparent.

Elections to the second Majlis were held in the spring of 1984. The IFM, doubting the elections would be free, did not participate, so the seats were contested only by candidates of the IRP and other groups and individuals in the ruling hierarchy. The campaign revealed numerous divisions within the ruling group, however, and the second Majlis, which included several deputies who had served in the revolutionary organizations, was more radical than the first. The second Majlis convened in May 1984 and, with some prodding from Khomeini, gave Mir-Hosain Musavi a renewed vote of confidence as prime minister. In 1985 it elected Khamenehi, who was virtually unchallenged, to another four-year term as president.

Bazargan, as leader of the IFM, continued to protest the suppression of basic freedoms. He addressed a letter on these issues to Khomeini in August 1984 and issued a public declaration in February 1985. He also spoke out against the war with Iraq and urged a negotiated settlement. In April 1985 Bazargan and forty members of the IFM and the National Front urged the UN secretary general to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict. In retaliation, in February 1985, the hezbollahis smashed the offices of the party, and the party newspaper was once again shut down. Bazargan was denounced from pulpits and was not allowed to run for president in the 1985 elections.

Between 1980 and 1988, serious differences between the moderate and militant factions of the revolutionary government were held in check by the need to maintain internal unity during an indecisive war with Iraq that resulted in more than 200,000 Iranian deaths.

In 1989 the death of Ayatollah Khomeini removed the one figure with authority to arbitrate between the two mutually antagonistic political factions of the post-revolutionary elite. Neither of the two factions constituted a homogeneous political group. Rather, each comprised multiple ideological tendencies. In general, those whom the Western press labeled "reformists" advocated a liberal interpretation of the constitution and Islamic law, but disagreed among themselves with respect to economic, political, and social policies. By contrast, those who came to be known as "conservatives" advocated the strict and literal interpretation of the constitution and Islamic law.




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