Electoral Victory, Political Defeat: A Failed Democratic Transition in Iran
Scott Mainwaring and Douglas Chalmers (eds.) Actors, Institutions and Regime Resiliency: New Challenges to Democracy from Old Sources, Notre Dame University Press, 2012, pp. 166-201
20 Pages Posted: 19 May 2013
Date Written: March 4, 2013
Iran presents a puzzle for students of democratic transitions: in four consecutive elections between 1997 and 2001, a democratic-minded opposition won overwhelming majorities at the ballot box. For a period of four years, these electoral victories gave the opposition control of the national legislature, the presidency, and most municipal governments.
Polity IV, an annual index that scores countries according to their degree of contestation on a scale between -10 (most authoritarian) and 10 (most democratic), placed Iran at 3 for seven consecutive years. Between 1997 and 2003, Iran was considered a more competitive and open regime than any Eastern European country had ever been between 1945 and 1989. Iran also enjoyed a higher score than most Latin American countries ever did between 1945 and the early 1980s.
With a democratically-minded movement in charge of the presidency and the parliament, in addition to a relatively neutral army, many observers would have expected a transition toward democracy. What precluded this competitive authoritarian regime (Levitsky and Way) from opening up to a successful democratic transition? This chapter examines the politics of the Iranian reform movement, why it won repeatedly at the ballot box, but why these electoral victories failed to translate into political ones.
Keywords: Iran, democratization, social movements, competitive authoritarianism, zones of autonomy
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