Tehran // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's move to control the capital's metro system has caused anger among his political opponents, who claim the president is motivated by rivalries with the Rafsanjani clan and the city's mayor rather than a genuine interest in developing and running the Middle East's biggest underground network. The running of the Tehran Urban and Suburban Metro Co, which carries more than one million passengers a day, was handed over to the Tehran municipality in 2001. But last week, on a live television show focusing on issues within Tehran, Mr Ahmadinejad said he had decided to return the running of the metro to the government.
The president, who was the mayor of Tehran from 2003 to 2005, said he would personally appoint the head of the metro company. On Sunday the city council of Tehran vetoed the president's plan, but the government still has the option of offering a bill to the parliament, which, if approved, would give Mr Ahmadinejad full control over the metro system. The metro is headed by Mohsen Hashemi, the eldest son of the influential politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mr Rafsanjani and two of his politically active children, Faezeh and Mehdi, openly backed Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of Mr Ahmadinejad's reformist rivals in the presidential elections of June.
In his televised debate with Mr Mousavi a few days before the elections, Mr Ahmadinejad questioned the source of income of Mr Rafsanjani's children and implied that they had used their father's influence to accumulate wealth. At the time, Mr Hashemi, Mr Rafsanjani's eldest son, came to the defence of his father and his siblings and called Mr Ahmadinejad a liar. The Tehran mayor, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a conservative who ran against Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Rafsanjani in the 2005 elections, also supported Mr Mousavi against the president. Mr Qalibaf's supporters say he is now being made to pay the price.
"Ahmadinejad is holding personal grudges against some politicians and officials on account of the elections and has put the elimination of his opponents on his agenda," Dariush Qanbari, a reformist politician, said, according to Parleman News, the official website of the reformist minority faction, known as Imam's Way Faction. "He is trying to isolate them by any possible means or to eliminate them so that no one will be able to play a different tune," he said.
Mr Qalibaf and Mr Hashemi have on many occasions accused the government of withholding the budget allocated to the development of the metro as well as the budget for paying ticket subsidies. They say a lack of funding hinders the day-to-day operation of the metro. Metro tickets in Tehran are heavily subsidised jointly by the government and the municipality, leaving passengers to pay only one quarter of the ticket's actual value.
Besides the personal grudges and political rivalries, some of Mr Ahmadinejad's critics claim that by seeking control of the Tehran metro the government is eyeing control over a US$1 billion (Dh3.7bn) emergency budget recently allocated to the municipality to help the metro. "Now that the government has realised it can no longer sabotage [the operations of the municipality by withholding funds allocated to the metro] and that they can get their hands on the money they are seeking to take control of the metro," Qodratollah Alikhani, a reformist politician, told Parleman News.
Commuters using the metro in Tehran say all they want is good services and they are not concerned about who runs it. "The metro can be the easiest, safest and cheapest way to commute. Whether it is the municipality or the government that is running it is not such a big issue," Hasan, a civil servant, said. "However, I am worried that if the government runs the metro the way it is running the economy, we can't expect the metro developing or offering its services properly."
In other large Iranian such cities as Mashad, Isfahan and Shiraz, the construction of metro systems is under central government control. Mr Ahmadinejad's critics say in these cases the running of the projects has been very poor. The Mashad system, which has been overseen by a government-appointed provincial governor, is the only network that has been completed but it is still not operational because of a four-year delay in acquiring the rolling stock, according to the Ayandeh News web portal affiliated to Tehran's mayor.