[Note from Lisa: Talk about synchronicity! While I was writing this post, I received an e-mail from the United States Institute of Peace titled: What’s Parliament Got to Do with It? Elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran.]
Authoritarianism and/or Reform: As American as Apple Pie?
As the 1960 elections approached, Iran’s democratic interlude had ended and the shah had legitimized his regime.
The population was dismayed over the consolidation of authoritarian control. And — despite the domestic forces at work in Mossadegh’s downfall, most Iranians believed that American CIA intervention was responsible for the erosion of democracy in their country.
Now the shah was pushing for American desired reforms. Opposition among Iran’s middle class was extensive, and voting brought the complaints out into the open.
1960 Elections Could Not Be Postponed but Free and Fair Elections Could Not Be Permitted
Because the elections of 1956 had been controlled by the government and those in 1958 had been bypassed by a constitutional amendment extending Majlis terms from two to four years, the 1960 elections could not be postponed.
At the same time, a free and fair campaign could not be permitted.
As Andrew F. Westwood notes in The Middle East Journal (September 1961):
In short, the government faced the awkward problem common to authoritarian regimes in a choice between standing firm and awaiting an explosion or making vital concessions likely to generate an explosion. And the scheduled elections promised no delay in resolution of this dilemma.
Consequently, a scheme was devised which would allow open opposition in speech and press for the first time since Mossadegh. Candidates would compete for votes and results would be determined by votes cast.
A Two Party System
Iran’s leaders determined that only two parties would be permitted to compete in the election, and both of them had to be loyal to the shah. The people’s choice would be confined to candidates of one of these two parties.
Melliun, the government party, was formed by Manoucher Eqbal, the prime minister.
Mardom, the loyal opposition, was formed by Assadollah Alam, a longtime friend and ally of the shah.
In the elections, Mardom would be allowed to oppose current policies, a strategy designed to relieve tensions and identify the “true” opposition.
Whatever the outcome, the shah would be strengthened through the electoral process.
For the first time, all deputies would owe their seats to political parties and to one of the two parties — both eventually controlled by the regime.
So far as the shah was concerned, the Majles would be made up of supporters, so it would be more tractable than before. This would allow reform to move forward.
In fact, the government
stressed the need for ‘responsible’ political parties, noting the absence of such has been a central impediment to representative government in Iran.
In any event, the scheme failed and the regime was further undermined by new currents of opposition involving the army, the elites, and others previously loyal to the crown.
The push for American style reform became more politically divisive.
Go to the USIP website for more details.