Electoral Defeats Provoke Talk of "Neo-Principlism"

 Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf

A string of defeats in elections has prompted the outgoing principlist Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf to float the idea of a need for a fundamental change in the workings of the conservative camp, saying a move toward what he describes as "neo-principlism" is indispensable for restoring their popularity.

In a recent open letter to young loyalists of the camp, Qalibaf said a range of structural and functional errors have led to their electoral setbacks.

"Today, it is clear that principlism, while sticking to revolutionary principles and values of the Islamic Republic, ought to undergo a change in its approach and style of politics, and armed with new discourse and figures, it should evolve toward neo-principlism as soon as possible," he wrote in the letter carried by Tasnim News Agency.

Principlists are one of the two main Iranian political blocs, the other being reformists. Their main distinction is that principlists are staunch believers of the ideological foundations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, while reformists advocate gradual economic and social changes within the existing system.

Qalibaf, who has been the mayor of Tehran for over a decade and also served a five-year stint as police chief, urged young principlists not to wait for leaders of the camp to tackle the root causes of defeats and take the plunge to engage in constructive self-criticism to find out the reasons behind their failures.

"The inefficiency of the government had fully prepared the ground for a change. What led us to miss this opportunity like previous chances?"

Qalibaf was referring to the latest and harshest in a streak of misfortunes, when they lost the presidential election to centrist President Hassan Rouhani who enjoyed the support of reformists.

On May 19, Iranians decided to give Rouhani even a stronger mandate than the previous vote in 2013, letting him win the race by a strong 57% against 38% garnered by his principlist challenger Ebrahim Raeisi.

Qalibaf himself was a candidate in the race, but he stood aside in favor of Raeisi on the eve of the election, after trading barbs with Rouhani in heated debates televised live for the 80-million nation.

  Principlists Down on Luck

The camp had earlier failed to tilt public opinion toward itself in the 2013 election when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the windbreaker-wearing president, whose eight-year tenure was mired in deep controversy left office.

They received the first blow by Ahmadinejad's successor, when Rouhani managed to win the 2013 presidential race in the first round, although by a small margin. Principlists then saw the chain of their three-time overwhelming parliamentary victories broken, when a coalition of reformists and government backers known as "moderates" managed to earn a simple majority of seats in Majlis elections in early 2016.

They also faced a sharp decline in votes in the election for the Assembly of Experts, which was held simultaneously with the Majlis polls. Extending the sequence of failures, residents of many cities, especially big ones, picked more candidates affiliated with the reformist-moderate alliance to represent them in the last city council elections held concurrently with the May presidential election.


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