Conservative ex-Tehran mayor Ghalibaf elected Iran speaker

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran's newly formed parliament on Thursday elected former Tehran mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf as its speaker, consolidating the power of conservatives ahead of next year's presidential election.

The vote further shifts the political balance toward conservatives who oppose the relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani at a time Iran is engaged in a bitter standoff with arch foe the United States which has reimposed painful economic sanctions.

State television said the 58-year-old received 230 votes out of the 267 cast to secure what is one of the most influential positions in the Islamic republic.

Ghalibaf is a three-time presidential candidate, former police chief and member of the Revolutionary Guards who served as Tehran mayor from 2005 to 2017.

He received the most votes from the capital in February's parliamentary election, which saw the lowest turnout in decades.

The record abstention was partly over the disqualification of many moderate and reformist candidates by the Guardian Council, a watchdog dominated by ultra-conservatives.

An alliance of "principalists" -- or conservatives -- and ultra-conservatives swept the election in the absence of any challenge from the reformist side.

The parliament, which shapes debate in Iran, had been closed for six weeks until April 7 as part of measures aiming to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Iran has been hit hard by the Middle East's deadliest outbreak. According to the health ministry, the virus has so far killed 7,564 out of 141,591 confirmed infections.

Thursday's vote saw Ghalibaf succeed Ali Larijani, who had held the post since 2008.

The speaker not only directs the parliament's affairs but also has a seat at the High Council of Economic Coordination alongside the president and judiciary chief.

Established in 2018 by the supreme leader's decree, the Council is the highest authority on economic affairs and is meant to combat the impact of United States' sanctions imposed on Iran.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018, mainly targeting the crucial oil and banking sectors.