In the last week of May, the Iranian parliament elected its new speaker, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. It was a major career move for someone who played numerous roles in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), dating back to 1982, before serving for 12 years as the mayor of Tehran. It was also the latest example of growing dominance of Iran’s government institutions by the IRGC and other hardline entities.
In a sense, Ghalibaf’s election was inevitable. He had the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wields absolute power over matters of state.
The current makeup of the legislative body was determined in February when the Islamic Republic held national elections.
Although government authorities routinely praise such elections as symbols of popular, democratic support for the theocratic system, the reality is that genuine alternatives have been barred from the process since the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution.
And more than that, voices of opposition have been variously suppressed in ordinary society, as well, often with fatal consequences.
After seizing power, the mullahs were quick to suppress any opposition. And less than a year later, as they faced a rising tide of pro-democracy activism led by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK), the authorities attempted to brutally suppress that group.
In the summer of 1988, political prisoners throughout Iran were pulled from their cells and brought before tribunals to answer questions about their ideological affiliations and their loyalty to the clerical system.
Those who failed to appease the judges were summarily executed, and the vast majority of the 30,000 victims turned out to be members of the PMOI.
This is not to say that the regime succeeded in erasing factionalism from Iranian politics. Rather, it confined mainstream political discourse to a narrow range of ideologies and began to trade between so-called reformists and hardliners throughout the life of the regime.