Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries > Iran
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 861-862
IRAN: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-19621
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Iran, a non-Arab, Muslim country with a long history rooted in the ancient Persian Empire, became a constitutional monarchy in 1906. Under the reign of Reza Shah (1926-1941), political parties were banned, and the shah himself held the reins of government. With the outbreak of World War II, Iran was occupied by Allied troops, and the shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Political parties began to be founded as the young shah stood somewhat removed from the politics of his country. The communist-oriented Tudeh Party enjoyed the most success in developing a mass base, but it was forced underground in 1949 following an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the shah.

Iranian nationalism constituted another threat to the shah's authority, as Muhammad Mossadegh led the nationalization of the oil industry in 1951. Supported by his National Front, Premier Mossadegh challenged the shah for control of the army and the country. Opposed by the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency, Mossadegh's government was overthrown in 1953, and the shah appointed General Fazlollah Zahedi to take over the government. Party activity was again banned from 1953 through 1956, as the shah began to assume a greater role in Iranian politics.

By 1957, the shah decided that the country needed a stable two-party system, and he sponsored the start of two parties. He invited then prime minister Manuchehr Eqbal to form one party, called the Nationalist (Melliyun) Party, and encouraged the former prime minister, Assadollah Alam, to form the other party, called the People's (Mardom) Party. These parties engaged primarily members of the elite and had little penetration outside the Iranian parliament (Majlis). Nevertheless, the two parties squabbled during the 1960 elections, which were annulled because of charges of fraud on behalf of the Nationalist Party, which held the government. A second election in 1961 was also voided, as the shah despaired of his attempt to fashion Iranian politics after the British two-party model and dissolved the Majlis, ending our period with no political parties participating in the government.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Iran displayed one of the most erratic patterns of party legislative representation in our study, as reflected in the accompanying graph. And this picture was obtained even before the shah was forced into exile and the government taken over by followers of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Of the four original parties in our study, only one remains--and it was rescued from extinction by events in 1978.

Original Parties, Terminated

771 People's Party. The Mardom, or People's, Party had evolved into a type of token opposition in the parliament. The shah had dissolved parliament in 1962, but appointed Asadollah Alam, the Mardom leader, prime minister. It was during Alam's term in office that the shah launched his "White Revolution" program of economic modernization and secular reform. The shah chose, however, to create a new government party, Iran Novin, to back his effort. In the elections of 1963, Mardom obtained 14 percent of the seats in the Majlis?a percentage it was allowed to retain in the 1967 and 1971 elections. When the shah announced before the 1975 elections that all parties should disband and form into one new one, the Mardom leaders dutifully obeyed, ending the party.

772 National Party. The Melliyun, or National, Party was the mate to the Mardom Party, both created with the shah's blessing in 1957. The Melliyun was given the role of the government party, but it lost that part following the abortive 1960 and 1961 elections. It certainly was dead by 1963, when it was assigned no seats to win in the election.

773 Communist Party. Once considered the best organized party in Iran, the Communist, or Tudeh, Party was virtually stamped out by the shah's police forces by 1963, and for practical purposes the party ceased to operate in Iran, its leaders being driven into exile (Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, 1978, p. 431). But the political disruptions of 1978 may give rise to a new Communist Party formed from the ashes of the Tudeh Party.

Original Parties, Continuing

774 National Front. The National Front presents a reason for being cautious when calling a party dead. Heir to the mantle of Mossadegh, the National Front was generally regarded along with the Communist Party as moribund in 1977 (Iran: A Country Study, 1978, p. 363). Its token representation in the Majlis in the 1960s came through the Pan Iranist Party (Iran Almanac, 1967, p. 201). But in the disturbances of 1978 and after the revolution in 1979, leaders of the National Front suddenly reappeared. Mehdi Barzagan, who headed an allied party, even was appointed prime minister by Ayatollah Khomeini, religious leader of the revolution.

New Parties, Terminated

775 New Iran Party. The shah created the New Iran Party in 1963 to symbolize his White Revolution and mobilize popular support for his program. The party enjoyed huge majorities in parliament and was preparing for the 1975 elections when the shah abruptly announced that all existing parties would be replaced with a single party. The New Iran Party obediently folded in 1975.

776 National Resurgence Party. Established by imperial decree in 1975, the Resurgence Party (Rastakhiz) did as well as could be expected, winning all the seats in parliament. It should be noted, however, that the party slated multiple candidates, sometimes three or four, for the same seat, thus offering a measure of choice among the party-selected candidates (Muhammadi-Nejad 1977, p. 110). The National Resurgence Party ended with the shah's fall in early 1979.


At least one contemporary observer of the political scene attributed the shah's overthrow to his failure to permit the development of genuine political parties. Reporting from Iran, Nicholas Gage wrote that in their single-minded drive for modernization, the shah and his father "failed to establish the kind of democratic institutions?a free press, independent political partiesthat would stand as a bulwark against the traditional and religious forces opposed to change" (New York Times, December 22, 1978). Despite the role of National Front leaders in bringing down the shah, the party showed little capacity for stabilizing the political scene in the early weeks thereafter.

[For party politics in Iran since 1962, go to the essay by Daniel M. Corstange]

1. Our study of party politics in Iran is based on a file of 901 pages from 66 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Ali Sheikholeslami and Evelyn Coburn. Tom Laughlin used the file to code the Iranian parties on the variables in the first two clusters of the ICPP conceptual framework, and Bruce Weitzman completed the coding. Marvin Zonis was our consultant.