Hardliner involved in crackdowns is Iran's new parliament speaker

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf held top positions at ICRG.
Thursday 28/05/2020
Iranian Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) waves as he stands among members of the parliament after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, on May 28. (AFP)
Iranian Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) waves as he stands among members of the parliament after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, on May 28. (AFP)

LONDON - A former mayor of Tehran tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was elected Thursday as Iran's new parliamentary speaker.

The choice of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf's is seen as solidifying hardline control of the legislative body as tensions between the US and the Islamic Republic remain high over its collapsed nuclear deal.

Ghalibaf's election coincided with new threats of escalation as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned the US against the IRGC's naval presence in the Gulf after it received 110 new combat vessels.

“We announce today that wherever the Americans are, we are right next to them, and they will feel our presence even more in the near future,” the Guards’ navy chief, Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, said during a ceremony in southern Iran. IRGC commander Major General Hossein Salami said Iran “will not bow down to any foe.”

Ghalibaf's assumption to power in Iran's parliament comes after a string of failed presidential bids and 12 years as the leader of Iran's capital city.

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

Iran's Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, on May 28. (AFP)
Iran's Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, on May 28. (AFP)

Ghalibaf's candidacy received 230 votes from the 264 lawmakers present in the parliament in the first round of voting, state television reported. Parliament has 290 seats.

Ghalibaf, 58, replaces Ali Larijani, who served as parliament speaker from 2008 until this May. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Larijani as an adviser and a member of the country's Expediency Council on Thursday, state TV reported.

As speaker, Ghalibaf leads a body that can debate Iran's annual budget. However, laws passed by parliament must be approved by a 12-member Guardian Council and Khamenei holds final say on all key matters.

The position also puts Ghalibaf onto Iran's Supreme National Security Council, the country's highest level body that handles defence and nuclear issues. That takes on new importance as the US withdrew waivers from Iran's nuclear programme late Wednesday and as tensions between the two nations remain high.

A trained pilot, Ghalibaf 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.

Ghalibaf 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 out the demonstrations.

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

Ghalibaf then served as the head of Iran's police. A leaked recording of a later meeting between Ghalibaf 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.

As mayor, Ghalibaf faced corruption allegations, including over some $3.5 million being donated to a foundation run by his wife.

Despite winning the vote for parliament speaker, Ghalibaf may still face suspicion from other lawmakers, particularly over his ambitions, wrote Jason Brodsky, the policy director of the Washington-based group United Against Nuclear Iran.

“Some factions view his bid with suspicion given rumors Qalibaf wants to use the speakership as a means to run for the presidency in 2021,” Brodsky wrote. “Also, because of his previous election campaigns facing off against Rouhani, Qalibaf would preside over a more combative parliament.”