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Tehran City Council Elects New Reformist Mayor

Mohammadali Afshani Tehran Mayor

Tehran City Council members elected Mohammad Ali Afshani as the new mayor of the Iranian capital May 13, after his predecessor resigned last month amid controversy.

Afshani won by 19 votes, while his main challenger, Acting Mayor Sami’ollah Hossaini Makaram, garnered only one vote.

Afshani, 59, has served as the governor of the Fars Province and Deputy Interior Minister, both under President Hassan Rouhani.

The new mayor replaces MIT-educated Mohammad Ali Najafi, who resigned in April amid controversy over his attendance at an official International Women’s Day ceremony March 8 where a group of elementary school-aged girls performed a dance as part of the festivities. Conservatives accused Najafi of impropriety because the children performed for a mixed-gender audience.

Although Najafi repeatedly maintained he was stepping down due to a recently diagnosed illness, some council members insisted that the mayor was being forced out by his political opponents and that the allegations of impropriety at the International Women’s Day event were carefully crafted to embarrass him.

Najafi had accused his own predecessor, a conservative, of corruption and financial mismanagement, which Najafi’s supporters say is the real reason he was pushed out.

While Najafi was under pressure to resign in early April, the outspoken deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Motahari, wrote on his Telegram channel that the mayor was “asleep in his bed” when his political opponents barged into his home and “forced him to resign.”

According to Motahari, the Islamic Republic’s judiciary lacks “sufficient independence” and a “segment of the regime used levers of power” to force Najafi to resign.

Tehran’s prosecutor-general, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Ja’far Montazeri, had earlier cautioned, “If this mayor is incapable of managing Tehran’s municipality, who will be responsible for [his mismanagement]? As the prosecutor-general, I hold the city council members responsible.”

Montazeri’s comments were followed by widespread criticism from reformists, including Tehran City Council Member and former Tehran mayor Morteza Alviri, who said the prosecutor-general’s remarks were against the principle of separation of powers.

Najafi resigned for the first time in mid-March, citing poor health conditions, but the City Council, suspicious the mayor had been pressured to step down, refused to accept his resignation. In April, the city council finally accepted Najafi’s second resignation and launched negotiations to find a successor.

Najafi, 66, who held cabinet positions in the 1990s and in 2014, was overwhelmingly elected as Tehran’s mayor last August and officially took the helm at city hall in September.

He replaced Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander and former chief of police who challenged Hassan Rouhani in last May’s presidential election, but dropped out midway to back another conservative candidate.

Najafi’s successor Afshani was born in Iran’s western province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad and is a reformist politician and member of Central Council of the “I’timad-i Melli” (National Trust) Party.

The incoming mayor has also held top posts at the Interior Ministry, Education Ministry, and a number of provincial governors’ administrations, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-run Fars News reported.

In an interview with the pro-reformist daily Sharq, the incoming mayor said he would strive to build a habitable city and highlighted the need for sustainable development in managing urban affairs.

Tehran is home to 12 million people and in dire need of efficient infrastructure, utilities, decent housing, efficient public transport, and above all, responsible city management.