Who’s Who in Iranian Politics
Mohammad Reza Bahonar
Born in 1953 in the city of Kerman, Mohammad Reza Bahonar is an experienced Iranian politician and the Secretary General of the Islamic Society of Engineers. He began his political activities before the revolution—against the Shah’s regime as a university student, which led to his arrest and imprisonment by SAVAK. He obtained his architectural engineering diploma from the University of Science and Industry, and later his master’s degree in economic planning from Allameh Tabatabaei University. At present, he is one of the representatives of the Ninth Term of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (the parliament).
His brother was Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar –Iran’s former prime minister who was assassinated in 1981 – and he is the uncle of Seyyed Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, senior aide to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president.
He has also been a representative in the second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth terms of the parliament. Bahonar has been the head of the majority faction in the fifth Majlis, and the Deputy Speaker of the 7th and 8th Majlis, and he is currently the Deputy Speaker of the 9th Majlis.
Regarding his entrance into and presence in the Islamic Republic Party, and his record of representation, Mohammad Reza Bahonar states, “My record of activities prior to my representation is related to the first days of the revolution and my presence in Kerman. I began by working in disciplinary committees and with revolutionary activities and in the Organization of Urban Lands, and my highest position at that time was as the political deputy of the governor of Kerman, in 1979 and 1980. In late 1980, I came to Tehran to participate in the Congress of the Islamic Republic Party. My wife remained in Kerman and I was worried about security issues, because the incidents of the 7th of Tir and 8th of Shahrivar had just happened and we had the party’s congress ahead of us, a party in which all the top political figures of the country were members, including Ayatollah Khamenei (who at that time was the secretary general of the Islamic Republic Party), Ayatollah Hashemi, Ayatollah Moosavi, Ayatollah Tabasi, et al. I was very worried about the issue of security in which I did not have any experience. The day prior to the congress, I imagined that I would return to Kerman after the event. But they gave me a religious obligation to become a candidate for the central council of the party. Both Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Hashemi seriously asked me to accept this offer. Prior to that, I was only in charge of the Kerman branch of the party and could not imagine myself working at that level. I should honestly say that my presence in the party was more based on the incentive to keep alive my brother’s name; otherwise I should not have been eligible. After staying in Tehran for 5-6 months, Ayatollah Khamenei gave me the decree of being in charge of the party’s main office in Tehran. Before that, Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi had given me the responsibility of Provincial Affairs.”
Bahonar was introduced as the candidate of the United Front of Principalists from Tehran in the 9th Majlis and, in the run-off elections, entered the parliament as the sixth representative. The votes he garnered in the run-off elections were more than the first round, which analysts call a phenomenon in parliamentary elections.
Although he does not remember to whom he has given the best advice, he says “I only know that I have given much advice to Dr. Ahmadinejad, none of which he has ever acted upon! The President thinks that he has been successful, but I believe if he had paid attention to the advice of other people, the affairs of the country would have been much better.”
Bahonar was among the people who, following the 1388 presidential elections which led to the victory of Ahmadinejad, made tumultuous statements which were analyzed by some as collaboration with the protesting movement, but he has always denied such accusations.
His critics refer to a personal and confidential letter that he had written to Ayatollah Khamenei prior to the elections, in which he had stated the possibility of Mousavi’s victory. “In that letter to the leader, I wrote about the possibility of a repeat of the 2nd of Khordad. This was my religious duty. I submitted this letter to the Supreme Leader. But the context of the letter was not only not in support of Mousavi, but it was rather raising the issue of what should be done if Mousavi won the elections, contrary to the inclination of the Principalists.”
While denying the rumors of his support for Mousavi, Bahonar states: “In the 2nd Majlis, I had lots of conflicts with Mr. Mousavi. Even the speech that I made in Ayatollah Khamenei’s inauguration has become famous. I have known Mr. Mousavi since the beginning of the revolution, and I have felt some danger since then. Aside from all the events that occurred following the presidential elections, I never considered him suitable to run the country.”
Mohammad Reza Bahonar, along with Habibollah Asgaroladi and Yahya Ale Eshagh, met with Mir Hossein Mousavi two weeks after the 2009 elections as representatives of the Imam’s Followers’ Front and the Supreme Leader. According to Bahonar, in these talks, it was suggested to Mousavi to continue his presence in the political scene within the framework of the law. He was asked to use all existing facilities including personal sites, newspapers, and political parties. In response to the question of what Mousavi’s answer was, Bahonar states, “He still expressed his protest with regard to certain issues which had occurred in the elections, and we emphasized that it was better that he pursue his protests within the legal framework.”
The Majlis Deputy Speaker had considered the formation of a political front by Mir Hossein Mousavi along the lines of his legal activities and, while welcoming this matter, had said, “We had said in our meeting with Mr. Mousavi that if he worked within the legal framework, we would support his activities and would give him our utmost help.”
Following the demonstrations of the 25th of Bahman 1389, which led to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi being put under house arrest, representatives of the parliament demanded a trial for these two individuals in a letter, which Bahonar introduces himself as one of the authors, collecting the signatures of Majlis representatives, especially the signatures of reformist representatives. With regard to the method of dealing with Mousavi and Karoubi, Bahonar states, “Some of our friends said that we should immediately execute Mousavi and Karoubi. But I told them that their execution would not solve the problem and I again repeat that I did not agree with such a measure, for this is not how a country should be run. All of us knew that the last person who agreed with the idea of house arrest for Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karoubi was the Leader. The Judiciary intended to take this measure 6 months earlier, but Ayatollah Khamenei did not agree then. Unfortunately, some of our radical friends stated that we should exert pressure for the house arrest of Mousavi and Karoubi so that the Leader would declare his agreement, but we said that pressuring the Leader was our red line.”
With regard to the issue of the vote of confidence for Ahmadinejad’s second cabinet, Bahonar states that the parliament’s votes of confidence for some ministers were given with Ayatollah Khamenei’s advice: “5 or 6 ministers would not have gained the vote of confidence, because we hold the heartbeat of the Majlis. I did not say that we would remove them from their posts…. Two days later, the leader advised us not to do so. This was his guiding order. I know open sessions of Majlis where some who do not give their vote of confidence to a minister, give zero to him, some give 5 and some 9.5. If I ask the person who gives 9.5 to the suggested minister to give his vote of confidence, he would do so. The leader’s guiding opinion has strong impact on the expert opinions of the representatives. The expert opinion of the Supreme Leader is certainly more important than the expert opinion of the Speaker of the parliament and many others.”
With regard to the question of whether the support of the Principalists for Ahmadinejad is mainly due to the leader’s advice, Bahonar has stated, “We have expressed our criticisms to the present government during the past years, but we have enough experience with previous governments as well, and we should compare them with each other. Therefore, in general, we have defended the government of Ahmadinejad.”
Supporters of Ahmadinejad, while criticizing Bahonar’s statements against the Ahmadinejad government, especially with regard to his remarks about the Leader’s advice on giving the vote of confidence, have questioned Bahonar’s quotation from the leader and have given strong responses to his criticisms of the government. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Editor in Chief of the state newspaper Iran, in a piece entitled “Disconsolate Dreams”, writes, “The question of why people with political experience like Mohammad Reza Bahonar have confiscated the House of the People (parliament) for themselves and lost their tolerance against the revolutionary and popular government of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has been the most effective government after the revolution in advancing the country, and are not ready to tolerate the last year of the present government, must convincingly be answered.”
Bahonar is among Iranian politicians who demonstrated their effective role in Iran’s policies during the years after the revolution. Despite numerous disagreements with his opinions from many sources, during Khatami’s and Ahmadinejad’s presidencies, the winner of the game has never been any of his opponents but he himself who, hitherto, has not been removed from the decision-making scene of Iran’s policies, rather, has seen his influence grow.