Several conservative contestants for the post of the Speaker of Iran's Parliament (Majles) are trying to prevent Tehran's former Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf from winning the position, says reformist newspaper Ebtekar in Tehran.
Iranian media were gossiping about Qalibaf's ambition to head the Majles even before the parliamentary elections in February. Among up to 11 contestants named by various media outlets in Iran for the post, Qalibaf is by far the most prominent one.
He was still on top of one of the latest lists published by Fararu news website last week that narrowed down the list to 7 members of the newly elected parliament scheduled to open May 28.
According to Fararu, six of the seven main contestants for the post are conservative figures, and only one, Massoud Pezeshkian, the current vice-speaker of the Majles is a reformist.
The main conservative candidates who have declared their readiness for competing for the post include Paydari Front Leader Morteza Aqa-Tehrani, former Culture Minister Mostafa Mirsalim, former hardline MP Alireza Zakani, pro-Ahmadinejad politicians Ali Nikzad and Hamid Reza Hajibabaei and former pro-Ahmadinejad nuclear agency chief Fereidoun Abbasi.
This is the first time there are more than two or three people competing to win the speaker’s position. According to Ebtekar, Qalibaf never thought he would have to fight so many rivals for the post he has been eying since his defeat in the 2017 presidential election.
Qalibaf (Ghalibaf) has already won a fierce competition with the ultraconservative Paydari Front and its offshoot contingent of pro-Ahmadinejad figures to lead the list of conservative Majles candidates for Tehran.
The Paydari front members in particular have invariably highlighted Qalibafs’s record of financial corruption as Mayor of Tehran, a post he held for longer than a decade until 2018.
Ebtekar newspaper wrote in a commentary by Elham Barkhordar on April 28 that Paydari members who claim to hold the majority in the next Majles have vowed to prevent Qalibaf ascending to the seat of the Speaker of the Majles, using corruption charges against him.
Before the February elections, some Iranian media said that Qalibaf was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's candidate for the post. This may or may not be true as Qalibaf is a cousin of Khamenei's wife and comes from the same Khorasan Province village where Khamenei comes from.
Ebtekar quoted former hardline MP and the current head of Transparency Monitoring Organization, Ahmad Tavakoli as saying: "I am against corruption and taking advantage of public assets. I am not saying this for political reasons. There has been corruption and lawbreaking in the way the Municipality transferred some of its assets."
Tavakoli must have been referring to corruption cases involving trillions of rials including one in which the Mayor is accused of transferring some assets to his wife's charity.
Tavakoli, a former supporter of Qalibaf who has turned against him, said that the Guardian Council should have paid attention to these cases before the election, "not now that he can potentially become the Speaker of the Majles," Ebtekar reported.
However, this is not the first time Qalibaf's conservative allies let him down. During the presidential elections in 2017, although he was the leading conservative candidate, the conservative alliance knocked him out of the race and opted for current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi to compete with Rouhani who eventually won the race.
Qalibaf subsequently left the conservative camp in a temper tantrum and while sulking, he created his own "neoconservative" group.
Many in Iranian media have said that Qalibaf is still eying the Presidency and he might still be willing to take part in the 2021 presidential election as a candidate.
Traditionally, every time there has been more than one conservative candidate for the post of Majles Speaker, the conservative caucus held a preliminary election among themselves to come to a consensus about the final candidate. This time, with the Paydari Front Leader and three pro-Ahmadinejad candidates for the post, such a consensus is hardly feasible.
The competition over the Speaker's seat may prove to be more spectacular than previously anticipated.