Marked by the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, the 2020 Majles elections in Iran handed control of the legislative branch of the Iranian establishment to hardliners. Prominent among them is former military officer turned career politician Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Qalibaf, who had failed to win several previous national elections,1 this time was the top vote-getter among the 30 candidates elected to parliament from the capital district. Having won his seat with almost 1.3 million votes, he was elected Majles speaker by an overwhelming margin.
Qalibaf’s military and political careers are filled with incidents of corruption,2 abusing his offices to benefit himself and his close network of family members, friends, and associates. As the mayor of Tehran (2005–17), Qalibaf’s personal network benefited from his steering of major contracts.3
Qalibaf has proven adept at forging alliances to advance his agenda. It came as no surprise that, after becoming Majles speaker in May of last year, he quickly began appointing friends and confederates to prominent positions in parliament. One of these appointees is close ally Mohammad Saeed Ahadian. Ahadian, who is related by marriage to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—he is the nephew of the supreme leader’s wife, Mansoureh Khojasteh Baqerzadeh—has capitalized on his connections to both of these Islamic Republic icons.
Ahadian benefited from the forced takeover of the formerly reformist Khorasan newspaper, where he has served as editor-in-chief for over a decade and a half. Khamenei appointed him to the Khorasan Artistic and Cultural Institute board of trustees, which was founded in 2004 (Persian year 1383) and holds the Khorasan newspaper publishing license.
Ahadian ran for the Majles in 2019, describing himself as a principlist closely aligned with the “neo-principlists and Qalibaf.” Qalibaf first used the term “neo-principlism” in an open letter he released that year following Hassan Rouhani’s reelection. In the letter, he stated that conventional principlism must change in order to ensure future victories for Iran’s hardliners. One of Qalibaf’s political adversaries defined neo-principlism as a crude attempt to “gather supporters regardless of their beliefs and lifestyle—i.e., live however you want to live as long as you are with us and vote for us.”
While Ahadian failed to win a Majles seat, this did not signal the end of his parliamentary dreams. Within a week of becoming a Majles speaker, Qalibaf appointed Ahadian as his political and media assistant.
Ahadian’s new job entails “establishing suitable connections with the country’s media,” “coordinating and facilitating media opportunities for lawmakers so they can raise awareness and discuss the Majles’s service plan/approach,” and “laying the social and media foundation for the participation of academic and seminary elites as well as the people in Majles decision-making.”
- Qalibaf has run for president three times to date. In the 2005 campaign, he stood as a candidate from the Resistance Front of Islamic Iran. This political party was founded by Mohsen Rezaei, a fellow ex–IRGC commander who has been secretary of the Expediency Council (EC) since 1997. Qalibaf placed fourth in the first round of voting and did not advance to the runoff, which was won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In 2013, Qalibaf ran again, this time as an independent. He placed second, but well behind the winner, Hassan Rouhani. He also ran in 2017 but dropped out of the race four days before the election. He endorsed Ebrahim Raisi, who was later appointed head of the Iranian judiciary.
- During the 2017 campaign debates, it emerged that Qalibaf had used “dirty money” to fund his 2005 presidential campaign.
- In 2013, for instance, Qalibaf awarded Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters, the IRGC engineering and construction conglomerate, an exclusive four-year $6.06 billion urban development contract in Tehran, bypassing public procurement procedures. Qalibaf had served as Khatam-al Anbia’s managing director for several years in the mid-1990s.
✶ This post is also available in: فارسی (Persian)