Ex-Tehran mayor reelected as Iran parliament speaker, cementing hardliner control

Former Revolutionary Guard general Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf ran the capital for 12 years, served as Ahmadinejad’s foreign minister, backed violent crackdowns on anti-regime protests

Former Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani (L) and reelected speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf (R) attend the inauguration session for the new Parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
Former Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani (L) and reelected speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf (R) attend the inauguration session for the new Parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s parliament re-elected hardliner Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf on Tuesday as its speaker, reaffirming its hard-right makeup in the wake of a helicopter crash that killed the country’s president and foreign minister.

Of 287 lawmakers voting, 198 backed Qalibaf to retain the position he first took in 2021. He initially became speaker following a string of failed presidential bids and 12 years as the leader of Iran’s capital city, in which he built onto Tehran’s subway and supported the construction of modern high-rises.

Many, however, know Qalibaf for his support as a Revolutionary Guard general for a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999. He also reportedly ordered live gunfire to be used against Iranian students in 2003 while serving as the country’s police chief.

In Tuesday’s vote, challenger Mojtaba Zonnouri, a hardline Shiite cleric who once led parliament’s national security commission, won 60 votes. A former foreign minister to then-hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Manouchehr Mottaki, received five votes.

Qalibaf offered no immediate remarks after the vote. The March parliament election saw the country’s lowest turnout since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Of those elected to the 290-seat body, hardliners hold over 230 seats, according to an Associated Press survey.

A trained pilot, Qalibaf served in the paramilitary Guard during the country’s bloody 1980s war with Iraq. After the conflict, he served as the head of the Guard’s construction arm, Khatam al-Anbia, for several years leading efforts to rebuild.

File: Then-Tehran’s mayor and conservative presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center right, listens to a cleric on his arrival to attend a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, May 2, 2017. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)

Qalibaf then served as the head of the Guard’s air force, when in 1999 he co-signed a letter to reformist president Mohammad Khatami amid student protests in Tehran over the government closing a reformist newspaper and a subsequent security force crackdown. The letter warned Khatami the Guard would take action unilaterally unless he agreed to put down the demonstrations.

Violence around the protests saw several killed, hundreds wounded and thousands arrested.

Qalibaf then served as the head of Iran’s police, modernizing the force and implementing the country’s 110 emergency phone number. However, a leaked recording of a later meeting between Qalibaf and members of the Guard’s volunteer Basij force, included him claiming that he ordered gunfire be used against demonstrators in 2003, as well as praising the violence used in Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protests.

Qalibaf ran failed presidential campaigns in 2005, 2013, and 2017, the last of which saw him withdraw in support of the hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi later became president and died in the May 19 helicopter crash that also killed Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others.

Iran’s parliament plays a secondary role in governing the country, though it can intensify pressure on a presidential administration when deciding on the annual budget and other important bills. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, has the final say in all important state matters.

Iran will hold presidential elections on June 28 to replace Raisi. On Thursday, a five-day registration period for candidates will open.

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