The Tehran mayorship is a controversial position. Over the past 12 years, mayors have sought to run for the presidency — a dream that came true for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.
The current mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, is a conservative who has unsuccessfully tried his luck in presidential elections three times. Besides his various alleged violations of the law, Ghalibaf has been under fire from Reformists who have accused him of using the municipality’s budget for campaigning purposes. These attacks and criticisms weren’t enough to force Ghalibaf out of the municipality, which he has headed since 2005, as conservatives held the majority in the Tehran City Council and supported him through the ups and downs. But now, with Reformists winning all seats in the May 2017 election for the Tehran City Council, Ghalibaf is on his way out.
At first, media outlets reported that Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of the late two-time president, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was set to assume the mayorship. But the Reformists opposed such a move, even as the younger Hashemi obtained a record-breaking number of votes, more than 1.8 million, in the May 19 polls. The Reformists referred to an internal agreement reached before the election in which Reformist candidates agreed not to leave the council for another job if elected. Of note, to become mayor, city council members must leave the council. While causing division, the Reformists finally pressured Hashemi not to run for mayor.
On July 19, members of the incoming Tehran City Council held a meeting to choose a new mayor. In the first minutes of the session, Hashemi announced he wouldn’t run in order to enhance the unity among Reformists on the city council. The council members proposed 24 names for heading the municipality. Following an internal ballot on the same day, the list was narrowed down to the seven following people:
Mohammad Ali Najafi, an MIT graduate and a politician close to moderate President Hassan Rouhani; Hossein Marashi, a former head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization; Mohammad Shariatmadari, vice president for executive affairs and head of Rouhani’s presidential campaign; Elahe Koulai, a former parliament member and the first woman to be proposed for the Tehran mayorship; Mohsen Mehralizadeh, former head of the National Sports Organization of Iran; Habibollah Bitaraf, deputy oil minister for research and technology; and Mohammad Ali Afshani, the current governor of Fars province.
On July 20, Bitaraf stepped aside, stating that he had never been determined to run for mayor. The remaining six proposed figures must present their plans and agenda for the municipality to the City Council in the next two weeks.
Expressing its opposition to the shortlisted politicians to replace Ghalibaf, the conservative Fars News Agency argued July 20 that they are either ill or have in the past been sentenced to prison. Marashi was jailed in 2010 due to charges related to the unrest in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election, and Najafi resigned from his position as head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization in 2013 due to health problems.
Since most of the votes in the internal July 19 ballot went to Najafi and Marashi, the Reformist media speculate that the real competition is between these two Reformists. Nonetheless, the next mayor of Tehran will likely be an ally of Rouhani rather than a conservative thorn in the president’s side.