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publish date : 10 Monday July 2017      18:42

War of Power over Tehran’s Next Mayor

Tehran is a sea of opportunities but not a city of life. Will the next mayor attempt a major shift in developmentalist approach of management employed in recent decades?

In an interview on Saturday, former Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a veteran reformist, enumerated a few ideal characteristic of a good mayor for the capital. “The person should be self-motivated, not forced to accept the responsibility unwillingly. Secondly, he or she should at least be informed about the status quo of the city and have some experience in the Municipality. The third important point is what [former president Mohammad] Khatami has emphasized, that Tehran mayor should be renowned and influential at a national level. Last but not least, he or she must have a operational plan,” Iranian media quoted Karbaschi as saying.


Yet, it is not easy to find a person of such profile. With Tehran City Council now uniformly Reformist, conservative hopefuls are out of question. Different moderate and reformist groups are vying for the hot seat.


Hopefuls on the table so far include Mohammad Ali Najafi, Mohsen Hashemi, Mohsen Meralizadeh, Mahmoud Hojjati, Mansour Bitaraf, Hossein Mar’ashi, and Pirouz Hanachi. Each is backed by a certain party. Najafi, Hashemi and Mar’ashi are supported by the Executives of Construction. Reformists close to Mohammad Khatami have thrown their weight behind Hojjati and Bitaraf, originally proposed by the Union of Islamic Iran People Party.


Roads & Urban Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi and his deputy Pirouz Hanachi and have failed to attract political support and would have slimmer chances.


A phenomenon in the shortlist is Mohsen Mehralizadeh who has stepped in single-handedly, sporadically backed by a few political and economic figures. However, he has raised his profile into one of the major contenders. Mehralizadeh has launched a large media campaign and is said to have five or six votes in the City Council already.


A number of observers believe Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri could be a better choice, because he is a national figure and enjoys unanimous support among moderate and reformist groups. Apparently, he has turned down the proposition.


To sum up the race, one could say Najafi has the best chance even though the administration is reportedly more interested in his service in the Management and Planning Organization. On the other hand, it is said that Najafi himself is not willing to become the mayor. The second most anticipated hopeful is Mahmoud Hojjati. He is a devoted reformist and a veteran executive. In the first term of the Rouhani administration, he has successfully worked in the Agriculture Ministry. Mehralizadeh, an executive involved in industry and sport who once aspired to presidency but epically failed, seems to have high chances, too.


Mohsen Hashemi, son of the late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, was also one of the most anticipated hopefuls with voted in the City Council by the highest number of votes. However, the Council has pledged that none of its members could run for the Municipality. His selection would thus require a reconsideration of this promise in the council. Karbaschi has advised against such tough stances. “The Council is approaching the issue too meticulously. When all members of the city council belong to the same political spectrum, there will be naturally no problem if one of them leaves. The first fill-in member [Mehdi Chamran] comes from the opposite school of thought and lives in the same city, even though he represents the minority. What is wrong with having their representative in the council?”


Hossein Mar’ashi, Mohsen Hashemi’s uncle, also could have a slight chance. A member of the Executives of Construction, he directed Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization under the Khatami administration. Many observers believe none of the above present an ideal person for handling affairs of Tehran. However, Mohammad Ali Najafi has the lowest number of negative votes.


All the hopefuls currently being debated have a background of [physical] development-oriented management. This could be a big challenge as all the former mayors of Tehran including Bagher Qalibaf, Karbaschi, Morteza Alviri, and even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the same strategy, which has culminated in the problems of Tehran as we see today. While Reformist and moderate groups have repeatedly criticized Qalibaf’s development-oriented and quantity-centered approach the in recent years, in power now, they seem to have leaned towards managers of the same school, suggesting that the new city council has no different strategy in management.


But why the selection of a mayor has become so challenging? Where does the political competition come from?


Endless challenges


We have heard many times that Tehran is on the verge of population explosion, a true statement. The city is packed with about 13 million people. The population growth rate has been 1.72 percent, which is above the average rate in the country. In addition to the lack of space for influx of population, the city is currently in a water crisis. Air pollution seems to take several years to be resolved. Noise pollution and radio jamming are also serious problems. Traffic jams are annoying and the development of highways and underground routes under Qalibaf have not helped either. Tehran is a timeworn city and needs huge costs for renovation. It has lost its identity and needs an identity renaissance. In short, Tehran is not “city of life”, as anticipated in its 20-year outlook.


However, Tehran mayoralty is considered a bridge to presidency. The notion became credible when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the same path to office. Qalibaf’s two futile attempts may have negated the notion but the post is still significantly political. Tehran mayor could join cabinet meeting at the discretion of the president.


Tehran municipality employs 50,000 clerks, equal to the nation-wide state-run broadcasting, IRIB. More than 800 managerial post in the municipality could be tempting for every political group. The municipality gives the mayor unrivaled authority. Add to that the control of Tehran’s advertising spaces, which could break a war between political groups. Tehran’s construction project reportedly equals that of the rest of the country.


However, the city suffers huge debts too. According to former Olympics wrestling champion and city council member Alireza Dabir, Tehran municipality was under 20,000 billion tomans ($5.2b) of debt by the end of spring 2016. This in itself shows the massive annual turnover that could tempt political and business groups to fight for the mayor chair.


At the moment, the Executives of Construction and the Union of Islamic Iran People Party are the main sides in the war of power for the mayoralty. A phenomenon like Mohsen Mehralizadeh may also outpace the two group. Nonetheless, there will be no surprises. Challenges and strategies are the same. The new city council is devoid of innovations. There is no state-of-the-art plan and the options on the table are not going to shift work methods. We could only wish there are better managers.


* The article above originally appeared in Persian on Fararu.

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