Has Tehran’s Mayor Wasted His Chances for Presidency Once Again?
Tehran's mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf is already at the heart of a controversy over what is dubbed as 'astronomical real estates': a large number of uptown residences sold to Tehran City Council members, and supporters, with massive discounts.
However, Qalibaf’s popularity is going downhill not for the yet unverified report but rather for his signature 'pincer' reactions, first brought to public attention by Hassan Rouhani’s riposte in a decisive moment during the 2013 presidential TV debates, referring to Qalibaf’s proposed plan to crack down on student rallies, following Kuye Daneshgah (Tehran University dorm) student protests, back in summer of 2003.
That moment cost Qalibaf yet another four years away from his Shangri-La in Pasteur Avenue, Tehran.
Months after the pay slip controversy hit online, with the Rouhani administration suddenly left alone to shoulder the blame for high salary of senior white collars, Memari News blew the whistle, in late August, on a case under investigation in Iran’s State Inspectorate over accusations that Tehran City Hall had sold large posh residences with massive discounts to council members.
The report soon divided city council members into those exposed and those who remained unaffected, mostly Reformists, but it united the Principlist camp against the whistleblowers.
A handful of websites were blocked and Memari News director Yashar Soltani was prosecuted, on the grounds that the Inspectorate report, still at an initial stage, was classified. The silence even hit the state TV that had to cancel shows debating the issue minutes before they were slated for broadcast. Yashar Soltani went to jail on Saturday and a campaign introduced to fund for his bail of 200 million tomans (roughly $60000) failed to release him on Sunday, as the judge in charge reportedly raised the bail on the spot.
Qalibaf, the "colonel" as labeled by self-proclaimed "lawyer" Hassan Rouhani in that historical 2013 debate, has now started to seek recovery from the defamation elsewhere.
In a groundbreaking gesture in his twelve years as mayor of Tehran, Qalibaf has appointed a woman, Narges Ma’danipour, as the mayor of Tehran’s District 13. The move was soon hailed in Principlist media outlets as a first, a maneuver that came to be empty when Reformist rivals noted the precedence of Zahra Nouri who had been appointed as mayor of District 7 twenty years earlier by then mayor the Reformist Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi.
For the past twelve years, Qalibaf has repeatedly vowed to offer a ten-percent share of urban administrative post to women. However, as Shargh daily noted on Sunday, the latest figures on City Hall websites show only a handful of women in top posts, among them Qalibaf's own wife Zahra Moshir who has been his advisor and director of the Women Empowerment Headquarters for several years.
As for Narges Ma’danipour’s executive record, Shargh finds nothing about her career, expertise or managerial qualifications but lectures and comments within her professional domain as director of the City Hall’s Administration for Women Affairs, almost always around topics such as women, hijab and family.
Some journalists however found her name shining on the list of those who received the so-called astronomical real estates. According to the list, she has received a 130-meter-plus real estate in Tehran’s pricey Sa’adatabad neighborhood, worth 8.12 billion tomans, with a 30-percent discount, which amounts to more than 2.4 billion tomans (nearly $690000).
Qalibaf has repeatedly slipped out his real views on women’s right to work. In the face of the controversies a City Hall gender segregation plan had prompted, Qalibaf refused to change his policies regarding trust to female executives. In a speech made two years ago before a Friday prayers homily in Tehran, Qalibaf further sermonized on the issue, saying a woman should not spend more time with strangers compared to the time she spends with her husband and children. “Humanity of individuals should not be discriminated,” he quipped two months later, on the sidelines of the opening ceremony for the fifth edition of Woman and National Production Exhibition in a veiled response to criticisms. “In the City Hall, we have posts that are too time-consuming and demand at least 15 hours of work per day … Should women be appointed to these jobs?”
That best explains why many consider his new appointment a political pretention. Qalibaf’s rule over the City Hall is expected to end in 9 months in the light of a fresh city council election in Tehran, where a Principlist coalition was crushed in February with its opponents winning all the seats available in the parliament.
Other controversies also abound around Tehran's mayor. Subway stations, collapsing one after the other with several workers killed in recent weeks, have become talk of the town, as some citizens believe Qalibaf wants them quickly finished to leverage his chance in his presidential campaign.
Qalibaf’s failure to convince public opinions through transparency rather than silencing opponents as well as the vague prospect of the development of a full-scale consensus on him within the Principlist camp indicate the insurmountable obstacles he will have to overcome if he is ever to succeed in a presidential race.