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Tehran Municipal Elections Marks Yet Another Big Loss For Iran's Reformists

Local elections in the Iranian capital Tehran and Karaj, an industrial city just over 20 miles outside the capital, ended with a landslide victory for the country's hardline conservative camp.

Iran's local elections are no less significant than its presidential election. More tangible financial interests are at stake and fierce competitions are motivated also by ethnic divides, particularly in the provinces such as Kordestan, Lorestan, and Khuzestan. In Tehran, local elections are about access to gigantic funds as well as political influence.

Local elections were held alongside the presidential elections on June 18 as the Interior Ministry hoped that even those who boycotted the presidential election would show up at the polling stations and this could provide an opportunity for luring voters to take part in the presidential vote.

In Sistan and Baluchestan province local council voters were reportedly pressured to vote in the presidential election, and this can partly explain the large number of blank votes and missing ballots cast by those who were cajoled to cast a vote for president.

In Tehran, the leading winner, hardliner Mehdi Chamran, won only over 486,000 votes as opposed to over 1,756,000 votes won by the leading winner of the 2017 elections, Mohsen Hashemi. The official turnout figure in Tehran and Karaj was just over 25 percent. Credible reformist candidates were all barred from running and the biggest number of votes that a lesser-known reformist won was some 13,000.

Mehdi Chamran, a hardliner who headed the winning list of candidates in Tehran municipal election on June 18, 2021

The big loss for reformists in the Tehran local elections came despite the fact that former president Mohammad Khatami had lent his support to the list of reformist candidates.

Another interesting point in this election was that Narjes Soleimani, the daughter of former IRGC Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who hardliners claimed could win millions of votes, won only over 350,000 votes and came third in the list of 21 winners. One could argue that this puts Soleimani's popularity at 3 percent in Tehran, despite non-stop propaganda by hardliners and state organs to make him a national hero, since he was killed by a US missile in January 2020.

Interestingly, 20 out of the 21 winners each received less than the 413,000 void and blank ballots cast by disillusioned voters. These figures become more meaningful considering that the number of eligible voters in Tehran are estimated at over 7 million.

A comparison between the votes of the most successful candidate in 2021 (486,000 votes), and the least popular winner of the 2017 election (1,066,000 votes) shows that Chamran won 2.5 times less votes than the least successful candidate in the 2017. A reformist told Etemad daily in Tehran that the result shows reformists' lose does not necessarily mean the conservatives' gain.

According to conservative Jam-e Jam daily, the result of the local council elections in Tehran and Karaj shows that voters have lost their confidence in reformist councillors. But this does not fully explain reformist's defeat. The mass disqualification of strong reformist candidates also contributed to the defeat. The 6 who remained in the competition won less than 175,000 votes all together.

Jam-e Jam revealed that 12 of the 21 new councillors are  former employees of the Tehran Municipality. They used to hold positions in the areas of urban planning, finance, traffic, transportation, and crisis management. Seventeen of them have university degrees in the areas of architecture, sociology, defense, divinity, IT, and urban planning. Only four of the new councillors are women, two less than the current council. This comes while women are leading local councils in 8 Iranian cities. None of the councillors in Tehran, the country's most polluted city has any experience in environmental management.  

The new council's first task would be choosing a mayor for Tehran. The most likely candidate is said to be IRGC General Saeed Mohammad, the former chief of the IRGC's Khatam ol-Anbia HQ, who was disqualified as a presidential candidate.


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