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Mired In Corruption, Iranian Neo-Cons Eye 2020 Parliamentary Elections

Iran -- Tehran Mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf speaks during an election campaign rally in Jame mosque in the city of Varamin, May 14, 2017
Iran -- Tehran Mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf speaks during an election campaign rally in Jame mosque in the city of Varamin, May 14, 2017

Led by Tehran's former mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Iran's neo-cons hope to win a sizeable majority in the next round of the country's parliamentary elections to be held in February 2020.

In a video released on social media, Qalibaf, currently a member of the Expediency Discernment Council, has called on "revolutionary youths" to prepare for candidacy in the next Majles elections.

Qalibaf himself was once an example of a revolutionary young man in 2005, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that such a man should be Iran's next president.

Qalibaf did not win that and two other elections. Now, Khamenei has once again talked about a young next President. Having lost all hopes for presidency after three defeats, Qalibaf appears to have made up his mind to lead the campaign for conservatives to win the next Majles as a king-maker and has already started networking with this video.

After his latest defeat in the 2017 presidential election and feeling let down by his conservative allies who chose to nominate hardline cleric Ebrahim Raeesi as their candidate, Qalibaf had said he was going to form a third faction he called "neo-conservatives," which was neither reformist, nor necessarily conservative.

However, according to Sharq newspaper; "Unlike Former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Qalibaf is not willing to separate himself from his conservative roots or at least to ignore those roots. Meanwhile, the conservative faction is not likely to cut its ties with Qalibaf although it has not served his interests at election times." Sharq went on that "it seems that the idea of neo-conservatism put forward by Qalibaf and his supporters is a political game to get a better share of power."

However, according to Sharq, "What they have put forward so far as the objectives of neo-conservatism are simply slogans. In practice, no difference has been observed between Qalibaf supporters' neo-con activism and that of their conservative fellows."

But the most important thing that can damage Qalibaf's campaign is his track record during the past 14 years.

President Hassan Rouhani disclosed during a live televised debate in May 2017 that Qalibaf used "dirty money" in his election campaign in 2005. Rouhani said that he regretted that as Iran's Security Chief in 2005, he had prevented the case to become public or to be sent to the courts.

At the same time, Iranian reformists who supported Rouhani in the 2017 election, talked about links to fuel smugglers in Iran's south-eastern Baluchistan Province in 2005 when Qalibaf was Iran's police chief.

In the same debate, another candidate, Es'haq Jahangiri explained how financial corruption in the municipality's Bank-e Shahr wroked. Jahangiri also disclosed 54 corruption cases surrounding the municipality under Qalibaf; selling city properties to insiders at one tenth of their real price.

At the same time, Rouhani's campaign manager implicated Qalibaf's son in financial corruption cases involving 12 trillion rials (approximately $3 billion at the time).

Meanwhile, in 2016, Qalibaf's wife was suspect number one in another corruption case documented by Shaq newspaper.

Many of Qalibaf's managers at the Tehran municipality, including his deputy Isa Sharifi, have also been implicated in corruption cases involving trillions of rials.

In one of the most recent cases revealed by Tehran City Council member Morteza Alviri, it was said that the Iranian Judiciary is investigating 12 corruption cases dating back to Qalibaf's term of office as Tehran's mayor. Only one of these cases, said Alviri, involves at least 200 trillion rials, which seems to be an astronomical figure and perhaps an overestimate but pointing at huge corruption. Some of Qalibaf's managers are currently in jail on charges of financial corruption.

The cases show that Qalibaf's political career during the past 15 years was full of financial controversies. Furthermore, it appears that there is an organized network of the children and wives of current and former IRGC commanders involved in those cases. Qalibaf himself is a former IRGC commander.

These controversies apparently prevented Qalibaf from being appointed to key posts at financial institutions, but thanks to his links as a relative of Khamenei and a former IRGC commander, he has been immune to legal prosecution. It is apparently this immunity that lends Qalibaf such a strength to campaign for "saving the country" with his idea of "neo-conservatism."

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.