His best tool for undermining the mayor is the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for distributing funds to the municipality. One way Ahmadinejad can make Ghalibaf look incompetent is to withhold funds from the Tehran municipality for important projects in the hope that the people of Tehran will hold Ghalibaf responsible for any discontent they feel. Indeed, this already seems to have been happening. So far this year, the central government is supposed to have provided $120 million in subsidies for bus and metro tickets to be allocated to the city of Tehran. However, to date, only $3 million of that has reportedly been provided to the Tehran municipality. (This is only the clearest example of the Interior Ministry’s withholding of funds for the expansion of the Metro and Bus Rapid Transit system, which Ghalibaf has backed).
The people of Tehran already seem to be feeling the pinch of a lack of investment in public transport. Just this month, much of Tehran was shut down because of heavy air pollution, with schools and government offices closed for three days and universities for almost a week.
The disillusionment is becoming evident in day-to-day jokes shared between Tehranis. ‘What’s a bus stop? It’s the place you go to curse at the mother, father, aunt and the entire family of the bus driver for failing to stop,’ is one running joke between locals. Of course, the reality is that the bus driver doesn't stop because of overcrowding on his bus. But that’s little consolation for an increasingly frustrated populace. It’s hard not to see Ghalibaf being held at least partly responsible as frustration grows.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
For now, Ghalibaf seems to be holding back, and has avoided locking horns with Ahmadinejad despite the clear provocations—a restraint that has already earned him praise amongst politicians such as Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, head of the clerics’ faction in the Majlis.
But the support of a parliament that’s growing weaker by the day is likely to offer scant comfort to Ghalibaf, especially with Ahmadinejad apparently becoming stronger, not just at the top, but also at the grassroots level.
The fact is that Ahmadinejad is heading in Ghalibaf’s direction. And, much like a Tehran bus, he’s unlikely to stop.