Following the sudden resignation of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi last month, speculation has been growing that Mohsen Hashemi, the eldest son of the late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, could become his successor. However, it seems as if the Reformists are not in favor of such a move and could thus prevent him from obtaining the post. Yet after two failed attempts, the younger Hashemi seems to be closer than ever to becoming Tehran’s mayor.
Sept. 8, 2013, was in all likelihood a memorable but bitter day for Hashemi as the Tehran City Council re-elected his rival, then-Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, for a third term in office. Although Mohsen came close to winning and had the same number of votes as his rival in the first round of voting, Ghalibaf succeeded in winning over the council members in the runoff. Four years later, in May 2017, the Reformists released a 21-member list of candidates for the Tehran City Council elections later that month. This list, which was drawn up with the supervision and emphasis of former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, succeeded in winning all the seats on the Tehran City Council. Hashemi, who was the lead candidate on the ticket, has been at the center of speculation about his becoming mayor ever since. This is particularly the case since he refused a pre-vote agreement with the Reformists, which obliged successful City Council candidates to refrain from running for mayor.
The Reformists, particularly those close to the Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party, were not too keen on the idea of Hashemi becoming mayor. They argued that their coalition victory would be endangered if Hashemi decided to run for mayor and would thus leave the door open for the 22nd council seat to go to former council chairman Mehdi Chamran, thus opening the door for a Principlist in the Reformist-controlled body.
Meanwhile, another major pro-reform group, the Executives of Construction Party, supported Hashemi as mayor. In the end, he was not considered for the post, and another Executives of Construction Party member, Mohammad Ali Najafi, was elected as mayor amid strong Principlist opposition.
On March 14, barely seven months after taking office, Najafi resigned from his post, citing illness. The Tehran City Council has not officially accepted his resignation yet, although Najafi on several occasions has announced that he is serious about his decision to step down. While the former education minister has attributed the resignation to being a consequence of a recommendation from his doctors, there are reports that he in fact was under political pressure to resign.
Given the situation at hand, Hashemi may be the most likely candidate to replace him. Unlike Najafi, he has drawn fewer reactions from the Principlists and conservatives. Indeed, while Hashemi is a member of the Executives of Construction Party, he has never been a true Reformist. Instead, he has continuously been operating within the ideational framework of his late father, who was a moderate. Najafi, on the other hand, is a full-fledged Reformist. Indeed, ahead of the disputed 2009 presidential elections, he was a senior member of defeated candidate and later opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi’s campaign.
Hashemi is still facing opposition from the more radical Reformists who insist that his departure from the city council to become mayor will pave the way for Chamran’s return. However, although this is never openly stated, these politicians have their doubts about the extent of Hashemi’s devotion to the Reform movement.
Prominent Iranian political analyst Saeed Laylaz told Al-Monitor, “Mohsen Hashemi may be an option for the Tehran mayorship, but he is certainly not the only one. Given the current atmosphere in the Tehran City Council, with different Reform parties and movements each having a different share, there are other possible options.” Laylaz added, “An individual such as Habibollah Bitaraf, who was nominated as energy minister for President Hassan Rouhani’s second administration but failed to win a vote of confidence, could also be a potential replacement for Najafi.”
Of note, while all 21 members of the Tehran City Council were on the same winning Reformist ticket, they belong to a variety of pro-reform groups and movements.
In an interview March 15, Mohammad Naeemipour, a member of the Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party, said, “The Executives of Construction Party members have insisted that Najafi resign in their private meetings.” This claim sparked great controversy and was quickly denied by the Executives of Construction Party. The group’s secretary-general, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, rejected the claim in a March 19 interview, but added, “I always considered Mohsen Hashemi to be the better choice for mayor due to his experience in the [Tehran] municipality.”
Not all City Council members have entered the debate on Najafi’s successor and are instead trying to convince him to rescind his resignation. On March 17, Mohammad Alikhani, the head of the City Council's transportation commission, said, “Mohsen Hashemi becoming mayor is the public’s request, but he has no desire for it.”
Meanwhile, Hashemi has made no comments on the issue so far.
In the first Tehran City Council meeting in the new Iranian year, held April 3, Najafi was reported to have quickly left the session while maintaining his wish to resign. If council members accept his resignation, the Reformists will probably launch a new round of campaigning in the media to introduce and support their candidate of choice. This time, Mohsen Hashemi seems to be closer than ever to securing the post.