The Iranian political system has democratic elements but is largely a theocratic state. The president and some legislative bodies are popularly elected but political power is dominated by conservative Islamic clerics and unelected bodies, such as the Council of Guardians.
Iran has been run by a conservative elite since 1979, but appeared to be entering another era of political and social transformation with the victory of reformist minded liberals in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
But the reformists struggled to gain much traction as powerful conservatives in the government and judiciary sought to frustrate their ability to make good on their promises.
Former President Mohammad Khatami’s support for greater social and political freedoms made him popular with the young, an important constituency because around half of the population is under 25.
However, Khatami’s liberal ideas brought him into conflict with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and religious hardliners reluctant to give ground on established Islamic traditions.
The elections of June 2005 were a big blow to the reformists. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran's ultra conservative mayor and protégée of the Supreme Leader, became president. His election platform melded a populist conservative agenda with promises to deliver social justice, promote economic redistribution and pursue anti-corruption initiatives.
Despite the perception that he is the Supreme Leader’s ‘man’, Ahmadinejad has set about pursuing his own agenda and boosting his influence, particularly in foreign policy, which is traditionally the preserve of the Supreme Leader. This has weakened Ahmadinejad’s allegiance with the Supreme Leader and emboldened his conservative rivals to intensify their efforts to undermine the President’s authority.
Supporters of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei scored a major victory in the parliamentary elections held on 2 March – they won more that two-thirds of the 290 seats contested. However, it isn’t clear whether this will dent Ahmadinejad's power once the new parliament convenes in June – it appears that many of his supporters disguised their affiliation in the election in order to get through vetting procedures instigated by his political rivals.
According to the World Bank, Iran ranks in the bottom quartile of countries on two political indicators - political stability and voice and accountability.