The Tehran City Council rejected the resignation of Mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi on April 8. There were four votes in favor of him stepping down and 16 against in the latest episode of the factional conflict over power and influence among regime insiders.
Najafi announced he was resigning for health reasons, but some members of the all-reformist council have said he was bowing to political pressure.
After promising to explain his resignation at the April 8 meeting, Najafi reiterated that he required medical care for “a hard and long process,” adding he would not be able to work “for a long time” following his treatment.
He said he had received the diagnosis in the past month.
Speaking of his seven months in office, Najafi said, “I kept silent in the face of threats and insults in order to reform a corrupt system.”
Referring to attacks by the hard-line media on Tehran Municipality, Najafi added, “Most of the attacks targeted me, and finally one of those hit me hard.” He did not elaborate, but the hard-line judiciary has made both public and reportedly private threats against the mayor.
Council member Mohammad Javad Haghshenas said he was unhappy about the mayor’s resignation, but added, “If he insists on leaving City Hall, we should decide on the next mayor right way.”
However, some members -- such as Nahid Khodakarami and Zahra Sadr-Azam Nouri -- maintained that illness was not Najafi’s reason for stepping down.
Morteza Alviri, chairman of the Tehran City Council’s planning and budget committee, said the council should publicly announce why Najafi resigned.
“It is not right for the council to succumb to pressure,” he said.
Alviri had said on live television on April 7 that “Najafi had declared he was under too much pressure to step down.”
Previously, several Iranian news websites reported that the IRGC Intelligence Organization had exerted pressure on Najafi to quit.
Reformist activist Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former member of the Participation Party, implicitly confirmed on his Twitter page that Najafi was under pressure from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his hard-line aides to step down.
Council members Bahareh Arvin and Mohammad Naimipour also said that last summer, when the council offered the mayoral post to Najafi, an intelligence organization had threatened “to send dossiers to the court about Najafi’s previous activities” should Najafi accept. They did not name the intelligence organization.
Arvin also said the postponement of the council and Najafi’s planned meeting with Khamenei and the Tehran Prosecutor Office’s “humiliating treatment” of Najafi following his presence at a ceremony where young girls danced were further reasons for his resignation.
Meanwhile, reports in recent months said Najafi and his aides were trying to expose the corruption of former conservative Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. The attempt was criticized by the Tehran prosecutor and other hard-line supporters of Qalibaf.
But Najafi said on April 8 that under Qalibaf the municipality had taken a loan of a 5 trillion tomans ($5 billion) from the bank, adding to the city’s financial liabilities.
Taking the issue of corruption under Qalibaf to a new level, council member Hassan Rassouli said, “Najafi should explain the fate of the 12 reports he submitted to the court” about financial matters.
Rassouli added that some six months ago “the spokesperson for the judiciary officially announced that one of Qalibaf’s deputies was under arrest on charges of financial corruption. But we have not heard about the case.”
In a January 14 report to the council, Najafi accused the former mayor and his aides of “spending the municipality’s funds on presidential election campaigns, employing 13,000 people in a sudden move immediately before the election, withdrawing sums from the municipality workers’ pension fund, and the illegal transfer of the title of 674 city properties.”
Najafi had also said he was planning to send some of these cases to the judiciary for investigation.
A week following this announcement, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said he had called on Najafi to present his evidence to the Prosecutor’s Office immediately.
Najafi’s resignation and aftermath are part of the ongoing rivalry between hard-liners and reformists in Iran. The two sides have been criticized for their performance in the Iranian regime, and both were singled out by demonstrators in the widespread protests that swept across Iran this winter.
Conservatives controlled the Tehran City Council for 14 years between 2003 and 2017.