TEHRAN (Iran News) – On Saturday and in the first live TV debate, the candidates in Iran’s 2021 presidential election appeared to face off, clashing over policy — and credentials — and offering roughly two divergent visions on how the country should be run.
The debate, the first of three and intended to focus on the economy, was an opportunity where authorities had ensured that everything — from questions to seating arrangements — was neutral toward all candidates.
But the preparations and the staging aside, it was a debate mainly between two political schools of thought, Reformism and Principlism, even though seven candidates are running. But in fact it was the best time for low-profile candidates to criticize the current President Hassan Rouhani’s government or put pressure on Hojjatoleslam Seyed Ebrahim Raeis who is the favorite to win the elections. And almost all of the candidates were already charged-up, staging preemptive attacks on the perceived rival in anticipation of potentially powerful offensives.
That was exemplified most clearly in the inclination of most, though not all, of the candidates to speak as they saw fit rather than to respond directly to the questions put forth to them by the moderator.
Principlist candidate Mohsen Rezaei, became the first to attack the President Rouhani administration — the subject of frequent criticism as the debate progressed — by calling his 2013 campaign symbol of a key “worthless.” And the former Central Bank Governor Nasser Hemmati delivered fiery opening remarks by saying that “a majority” of the Iranian society, including women, had no representation among the candidates, an explicit appraisal of the disqualification of some Reformist figures by Iran’s Constitutional Council from running in the election.
Alireza Zakani, a relatively lower-profile Principlist, took Hemmati’s critiques the hardest. “Mr. Hemmati, you are not running against five people, you are running against 85 million people,” he said, in an attempted rebuttal of Hemmati’s complaint that the five Principlist candidates are ganging up against him. And the duo continued to clash until the end of the debate.
Iranian presidential candidates have been focusing on the economy so far in their campaigns. Let’s see what they have said.
None of the candidates spared the Rouhani administration, even Hemmati, who was the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) under Rouhani until days ago and who took much heat for that perceived affiliation with the president. Rezaei made sure that he identified Hemmati as “Mr. Rouhani’s representative,” and Zakani, replying to an accusation that he was running merely to “back up” Ebrahim Raeisi, the highest-profile Principlist candidate and the chief of Iran’s Judiciary, said it was actually Hemmati who was “covering the past eight years.”
But the former Rouhani administration official attempted to distance himself from the Iranian president, who faces a lot of criticism for the state of the economy. “I have been actually relieved of my duties (as CBI chief) because I held different views (on policy) than Mr. Rouhani,” Hemmati said. And he repeatedly dismissed Raeisi’s fellow-Principlists as mere “back-ups” for the Judiciary chief.
The most composed of all was Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh, who mostly stuck to the questions and avoided launching personal attacks. At one point, he even expressed exasperation at the others for continuing to attack one another instead of focusing on their own plans. And Sa’eed Jalilialso kept composed for most of the debate.
An uneasy moment came when Rezaei threatened that he would “deliver Hemmati to court” if elected. And Hemmati threatened back by saying he would deliver Rezaei to Raeisi, the Judiciary chief, if he wins.
Mohsen Mehr-Alizdeh, 65, kept the lowest profile for much of the debate, and he repeated a self-deprecating sound bite that his administration would be “a third Khatami administration,” referring to former President and leader of the Reformist faction Mohammad Khatami.
But it wasn’t all personal attacks. In the relatively limited time that was spent on laying out policy, and largely after a 15-minute intermission, the candidates toned down their rhetoric and offered more direct responses to queries.
But again in their closing remarks, most were long on bombast and short on policy. “I’m not the winner of the election,” Hemmati said, addressing the Iranian people, “because the majority of you have decided not to vote. But I ask you to please re-consider.”
Hemmati is trying to distance himself from the government while he is blamed as one of the culprits of the devaluation of the national currency.
Unfortunately the first debate saw only the war of accusations and criticisms rather than offering programs for the future and it showed that the reformist and moderate principlalist camps are trying the undermine Hojjatoleslam Raeisi who is the favorite candidate to win the election because of his better performance as the Judiciary Chief. It is interesting to see some candidates who were behind the current bad economic conditions are trying to acquit themselves by blaming others.
Candidates are better to present their programs rather than attacking at the former government or accusing the Judiciary chief or other bodies in the country. People will vote for the one with better programs and of course as the Supreme Leader has said, economy and better livelihood is the main issue that people will vote for it. It seems the era of electing the lesser of the evils has come to its end and people will not be deceived by the alluring promises of some candidates who are unable to fulfill them in practice.