London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The results of Iran’s city council elections were released on Wednesday, and showed a swing towards reformist candidates nationwide, including in the capital.
The elections for Iranian city and village councils took place on June 14, alongside the presidential election. In contrast to the presidential election, turnout was generally low: only 45% in Tehran.
Thirty-one council seats were up for grabs in Tehran, with 13 going to reformists. Although conservatives won 18 seats in the capital in total, no radical candidates from Ahmadinejad’s faction were able to secure a seat. Even the outgoing president’s sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad, lost her seat after serving two terms in the city’s government.
Tehran City Council had been dominated by conservatives, including radical “principalists,” for the last 12 years. Many trace the beginning of Ahmadinejad’s ascent to the presidency to his appointment as mayor of Tehran by the ultra-principalist majority of the second Tehran City Council in 2002.
While the most important function of an Iranian city council is appointing a mayor—not a directly elected office in Iran—control of Tehran’s city council also gives the winners faction control of substantial financial and logistical resources. Although the composition of Tehran’s new city council appears to give conservatives a majority with 18 seats, four of these were won by previously apolitical celebrity athletes, who observers speculate may be open to changing their affiliation in the future.
Many reformist candidates for Tehran’s local government election were disqualified by the parliament’s city council election committee in the run up to the poll. High-profile candidates disqualified from the election included Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the latter of whom was disqualified from the presidential election.
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s first, and to date only, female vice-president, and Mohammad-Ali Najafi, a former minister and vice-president under presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani, were also barred from running.
Now, the same disqualified candidates are among the front runners to be chosen as mayor of Tehran and other cities. In particular, Mohsen Hashemi, who was for more than a decade chief executive of the company running Tehran’s subway system, has acknowledged that he has been approached to become the city’s mayor.
The trend is also typical in other major cities, with principalists losing ground in many former strongholds and being replaced by centrists or more moderate members of the conservative camp.
There are also other signs of change in some districts. In the northwestern city of Tabriz, a female candidate won the highest number of votes, while in the central Iranian city of Yazd, a member of the ancient pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith has been elected to the city council for the first time.