Iran Pulse

Can Tehran’s next mayor unite Iran’s Reformists?

Article Summary
Tehran has elected its third mayor in 18 months and he has a challenging road ahead to unite a divided Reformist camp.

Tehran’s city council selected 55-year-old Reformist politician and architect Pirouz Hanachi as the capital’s third mayor in 18 months on Nov. 13. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, conservative politician and Tehran’s longest serving mayor, left office in August 2017 after Reformists swept the city council elections that year. He was followed by Mohammad Ali Najafi, who held the office for just eight months and left after health concerns. Mohammad Ali Afshani held the position since May 2018 but was forced to resign after a new law forbiding retirees from holding public office.

Hanachi will have a tough road ahead of him in uniting Reformists and putting his seal on a city that was dominated by conservatives. One particular advantage for Hanachi is that he seems to have the backing of the Hassan Rouhani administration. Hanachi’s rival for the mayoral office was former Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi, who resigned and attributed the country’s economic crisis to the Rouhani administration. It was also rumored that former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami had supported Hanachi’s candidacy, though his office quickly denied this.

After 18 months of uncertainty and political infighting, Hanachi’s work experience and history appear to make him well suited for the position. He has a Ph.D. in architecture and served as a deputy for architecture and urban development at the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development from 2001 to 2005. He served under Najafi as deputy of technical and development affairs of Tehran municipality. He is knowledgeable of the unique challenges of this sprawling capital of nearly 9 million people, and there is hope he will approach the office with a technical mindset rather than a partisan one.

Some of the issues that Hanachi has vowed to address are: not relying solely on public and government funds for the city’s budget; improving public transportation to reduce traffic and pollution; and taxing unoccupied property, with the assumption being that wealthier individuals are sitting on multiple real estate holdings.

That conservatives have not opposed Hanachi yet is a positive sign that there will at least be a honeymoon era before they interfere or sabotage his policies. Amir Hamza Nejad wrote in conservative Jahan News that Hanachi’s election “must be taken as good news.” However, Hamza Nejad wrote that all of Hanachi’s previous executive positions were relatively minor compared to that of being mayor and it is not clear whether he was a deputy who merely supported the policies of his bosses or is an independent manager. 

Hamza Nejad added that Hanachi’s “liberal” policies and rumored support of Khatami “raise concerns.” In the Iranian context, Reformists have been proponents of liberal economic policies. He also criticized Hanachi’s previous support of traffic tolls. 

Hamza Nejad also touched on another topic, possibly even more damaging than conservative sabotage: the division within Reformists. The two leading candidates were both Reformists, the city council is dominated by Reformists and the final vote was 11 to 10, which shows deep division among Reformists, according to Hamza Nejad. The criticism is not unwarranted. Despite throwing their support behind Rouhani, and even occupying various positions in the administrations, even taking over the city council, Reformists have not been able to bring about a stable leader for one of the most important positions in the country. If they continue to play musical chairs with this vital seat, as Iran’s economy continues to falter, Reformists in Tehran may be out of power once again.

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Found in: hassan rouhani, conservatives, reformists, city council, tehran

Al-Monitor Staff

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