Worrying, to say the least - but Martin Woollacott has an interesting take on this, seeing it as a "last-ditch" attempt of the regime to retain the power which is palpably ebbing away:
The strength of democracy is that not only does it legitimise opposition, in some sense it is one's civic duty. A fatal flaw of religious regimes everywhere is this civic duty becomes rebellion against god. When this line is combined with the reality of rulers who are all too human, it becomes increasingly intolerable - robbing the regime of legitimacy and inevitably requiring recourse to the state apparatus of oppression:
"Those years have seen a slow draining away of legitimacy from the republic and its leaders, and in particular from Khamenei, who could never match the dominating presence of Khomeini and who could not stem the increasing hostility of most of the Iranian people to political religion, but who nevertheless has been determined, along with his satraps within the system, to maintain his grip on power.
The ultimate destination in a journey of this kind is an authoritarian state without authority, and that prospect seems much closer today in Iran. For years the men in charge of the key positions in Iran, including the Council of Guardians, the judiciary, the security ministries and the security forces, have periodically been able to recapture some popular support by allowing reformists a margin for manoeuvre in parliament and in the presidency, particularly under President Mohammad Khatami.
But, with the subversion of the 2004 parliamentary elections by the conservatives, who banned most liberal candidates and made the resources of the state available to the rightwingers, that era began to close. It is now definitively over, with the election to the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of Tehran whose politics are fundamentalist to the point of simple-mindedness, marking the point at which the Khamenei regime has passed over into a fearful consolidation of power that has no room even for a loyal opposition."
"Khamenei and his fellow conservatives...have increasingly come to depend only on the security state, and upon the physical coercion, or the threat of it, which that dependence implies. They have also begun, as it increases, to admit representatives of the security arms into the inner circle of power, hitherto confined to clerics and a few devout laymen. Ahmadinejad is himself a former Revolutionary Guard.The other fatal weakness of religious regimes is they have the same flaw as the Soviet model - with bells on: an inability to efficiently harness technology to the business of production, something which can often be masked in oil-rich regimes but which inevitably produces intolerable strains. My concern would be the fear over Iranian nuclear technology will bring nearer a confrontation with the West, which could artificially strengthen a bankrupt regime and distract from the fact that it is one that ultimately has no future.
Certainly, the losing candidates in the presidential election charge that the assets of the security state were deployed on a large scale to ensure his victory. The meetings of liberal candidates were disrupted, mysterious bombs went off - presumably the contribution of the intelligence services - government money was said to have been made available in large quantities and the volunteer militia groups, which dot every community, were on hand as unpaid election workers and enforcers. In addition, there are so many of these people - 300,000 in the militia, police, and Revolutionary Guard, not counting the regular armed forces - that the impact of their votes, if directed toward a particular candidate, is bound to be significant.
Whether such support was as extensive as some of the losers claimed, it was not the only reason Ahmadinejad won. His diatribes against corruption and his pledge that oil wealth would be used to improve the lives of ordinary people had an impact. Yet this is precisely the field in which he cannot deliver."