In a review of 16 cases of rigged elections in authoritarian or transition countries over the last 40 years, Minxin Pei and Ali Wyne, find that autocrats who try to steal elections had roughly an equal chance of retaining power, succumbing to defeat, or getting stuck in a political stalemate.
The coherence of the ruling class is a critical factor, they argue, since “when the ruling elites are divided and the military and security forces refuse to back them, autocrats normally fall from power within days or weeks.”
Current alignments in Iran suggest that political divisions run across class lines and through the main state institutions and power blocs within the Khomeinist establishment, writes Amir Taheri.
“Under different circumstances, this might have evolved into a two-party system, allowing rival factions to alternate by forming the government,” he suggests. “Such an outcome would have provided a rather discredited regime with new legitimacy through elections.”
But, despite rumors of Revolutionary Guards defecting to the opposition or being arrested, there is no visible sign of division within the military and security forces. If the regime is shifting from a clerical to a military state, cementing the hegemony of the Revolutionary Guards, it will not come as a surprise to researchers at the RAND institute.
Iran “appears to have entered a post-revolutionary era”, one analyst contends, with proponents of U.S.-Iranian dialogue and “democratic” governance one losing out to the Guards and their allies, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a realignment of forces that “may lead to an increasingly repressive Iranian state willing to use force to maintain its grip on power.”
The Guards’ vested interests in the economy make it an increasingly conservative force rather than a radical one, but also one subject to pragmatic calculation that belies its apparent monolithic politics:
… this tension between dogmatism and pragmatism is an omnipresent theme within Iranian political culture and raises the question of whether the greatest challenges to the IRGC’s future might actually originate within the institution itself—specifically, the potential for greater fissures and factionalism over questions of ideological purity, institutional privilege, and national interest.