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Are Reformists Finally Gaining A Strong Foothold?

Nominees for municipals elections registering at local election headquarters.

President Hassan Rouhani’s win on May 19 was not the only election victory for Iranian moderates or reformists. After years of scant influence in local councils, the reformists achieved astonishing victories in several major cities.

In Tehran, all the conservative candidates were wiped out. The reformists, supporting the incumbent Rouhani, gained all 21 seats. Furthermore, women left a new record with six elected female candidates.

It was the same story in the major cities of Mashhad and Isfahan (the second and third most populous metropolitan areas, respectively, after the capital, Tehran).

In other cities, including Tabriz, Shiraz, Yazd, Port City of Bandar Abbas, Semnan, and the predominantly Sunni Baluch city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, bordering Pakistan, they gained decisive majorities.

However, it was also in Baluchistan where female candidates broke all records by an unprecedented result. The total number of female city and village councilors in the province increased from 185 to 415, the Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. In the city of Khash and its surrounding villages, 138 women gained council seats.

The results clearly show that the conservative influence is fast disappearing, at least when it comes to day-to-day local life and business.

This is the first time in more than 12 years that the opponents of the conservatives have triumphantly marched into City and Village Councils almost all over Iran.

"The people have cast their ballot and put their trust in the reformists after many years," said Zahra Nejadbahram, one of the six women elected to the Tehran city council.

"We must preserve this trust in any way possible," she told the Shargh daily.

The outcome of the local elections is also an indication of Iranians’ desire for control over their daily affairs. Nevertheless, that won’t be easy as it might look. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representatives in provinces have the final word in almost all issues and are accountable to no one but Khamenei.

Recently, the leader’s representative in Mashhad, Ayatollah Alam al-Hoda, complained about concerts held at the holiest Shi’ite site in Iran. Soon after, all concerts were banned in the city.

Supporters of Hassan Rouhani in a campaign rally in Mashhad, on Wednesday My 17, 2017.
Supporters of Hassan Rouhani in a campaign rally in Mashhad, on Wednesday My 17, 2017.

Meanwhile, with the new anti-conservative faces emerging in the councils, it will not be so easy for the leader’s representative to force their personal preferences upon the public.

The new texture of the councils heralds a new approach in cities nationwide. For the first time, women along with youth have a chance to revolutionize the councils. There are independent councilors who supporting new approach, including the so-called Birdman of Khorramabad.

In Khoramabad, a city of half a million people, near the Iraqi border, a 60-year-old bird seller reached the top of the winners’ list after a simple campaign of walking the streets from dawn to dusk introducing himself to people.

Valiollah Rostaminejad gained 40,086 votes to stand atop in a field of nine members of the city council of Rasht, near the Caspian Sea.

Rostaminejad, a former teacher who was sacked after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, has no political background.

Alongside Rostaminejad, a street sweeper is going to be a Rasht council member too.

The City and Village Councils are local councils in charge of electing mayors, supervising the activities of municipalities, and the study of social, cultural, educational, health, economic, and welfare requirements of their constituencies. Council members are elected by direct public ballot for four-year terms.

Iranians buy items to celebrate the Persian new year Norouz at a street market in Tehran, March 18, 2016
Iranians buy items to celebrate the Persian new year Norouz at a street market in Tehran, March 18, 2016