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Why Tehran's Reformists Changed Three Mayors In 18 Months

Members of Tehran's City Council elected technocrat Pirooz Hanachi as the new mayor of Tehran, in a meeting, November 13, 2018.

The Tehran City Council, deep in debt, has elected a pro-reform technocrat as the Iranian capital's new mayor on Tuesday, November 13.

Pirooz Hanachi, 54, was elected through a time-consuming process that has been characterized by a member of the Iranian Parliament as "non-democratic," and "non-transparent."

This is the third mayor elected by the reformist-dominated city council in less than two years. The reformists swept up all the seats on Tehran’s city council in general elections in May 2017.

Hanachi, who has been Tehran's deputy mayor under the last two mayors, was a candidate before, but did not get the post for what has been described by a conservative news agency, Young Journalists Club, as "lack of strong political connections."

The agency reported that Hanachi is Tehran's first mayor with a background appropriate for his post. He has studied urban development and restoration and has served as deputy minister of housing.

The Tehran Municipality, an organization in charge of running the day to day affairs of a capital city with 12 million residents is known for alleged financial corruption in the past, yet to be verified in court.

The city council's failure to appoint a mayor, having in mind a long-term perspective, has been widely criticized by Iranian media.

The first mayor elected by the city council that took office in 2017, resigned last summer in a controversial development which turned out to be a family drama rather than a political stand-off, as portrayed by the council.

His replacement, elected through a lengthy process, held the office for only a few months as a new law banning retirees from public service led to his resignation, after his efforts to get some kind of an exemption failed.

Many critics have attributed the failure of the city council and the two previous mayors to the council chairman's desire to become mayor himself. The media charged repeatedly that Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, has always wanted to be the mayor, but the council's partisan nature prevented him from standing as a candidate for the post, because if he left the city council, he would have been replaced by a well-connected conservative figure who might undermine the reformist's 2017 "conquest" of the City Council.

Critics have also likened the political drama, scandals and lack of transparency at the Tehran city council to a miniature model of the way Iran is being run.

But the confusion and the messy politics of the council does not reflect positively on Iran’s reformists. The Tehran city administration is the only powerful body they really hold in the country, but they have not proven capable of effective leadership.

Hanachi was one of the two finalists among some thirty nominees for the post and won the position with an edge of only one vote. The MP who criticized the election, pointed out that the criteria for the selection of the new mayor was never clear. It appeared that instead of asking about the plans each candidate had, the city council was more interested in their political connections.

Habachi’s, was former Housing Minister, Abbas Akhoundi, also a reform-minded politician, but the difference, according to conservative media was that unlike Akhoundi, who is a political figure, Hanachi is a technocrat with little partisan baggage and political affiliation.

As a result, the new mayor, who will take office after being endorsed by the interior minister, may be in a better position to interact with the troubled Rouhani administration.

Rouhani has appointed Hanachi as a member of the High Council of Cultural Heritage, and he was reportedly one of Rouhani's choices for the post of housing minister.

Although the mayor of Tehran has always been a big-wig in Iran, the post gained further prominence as a launching pad for upward mobility to the post of president of the republic after hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the position to rise to the presidency in 1985.