Why Tehran’s mayor just can’t seem to win over Iranian voters

Al-Monitor | Saeid Jafari: Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf on May 15 decided to end his third bid for the Iranian presidency in the past 12 years. In line with his propensity for undergoing transformations, he once again sought to portray a new image of himself this year, sparking claims that he was copying the agendas of other presidential candidates, both in and beyond Iran. Ultimately, the uncertainty among voters about who the Tehran mayor really is may have been the chief cause for the premature end of his latest bid for the presidency.

Having long dreamed of being president, Ghalibaf first ran for office in 2005. He secured 14% of the votes in the first round of polling that year, and came in fourth place. Just months before the vote, Ghalibaf had resigned from his post as the head of Iran’s police force and instead focused his efforts on changing his image as a military man. In an article published on June 28, 2005, US-based academic Behrooz Ghamari claimed that Ghalibaf sent his advisers to Britain to meet with those of the then British prime minister “to seek guidance from Tony Blair’s campaign managers on how to target the affluent middle classes of Tehran and repackage himself as a pro-reform candidate.”

During his 2005 campaign, Ghalibaf was repeatedly seen wearing slick and colorful suits. In an effort to shift focus away from his military background, Ghalibaf presented himself as a pilot and posed for pictures next to Airbus jets while dressed in a pilot’s uniform. His campaign slogan was “Iranians have a right to the good life,” suggesting that his target audience was the middle class, students and the elite. However, his discourse did not gain traction as voters preferred then-candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s talk of justice and support for the poor under a populist theme. Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election and succeeded Reformist Mohammad Khatami as president.

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