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Candidates hold last debate before June 18 election in Iran

The third and final debate in Iran’s 2021 presidential election has gone according to an already established pattern of candidates joining two opposing fronts but also engaging in almost incessant attacks on the President Hassan Rouhani administration.

The third debate, held on Saturday (June 12), also offered the candidates a last opportunity to appeal to the largest audience, presumed to have tuned in for the last in-person face-off.

Organizers had made sure they would accommodate, at least partially, complaints by some of the candidates that the format of the debate so far had been unhelpful to a thorough presentation of their plans. Each candidate was thus given seven minutes — instead of the three and four minutes in the last two rounds — to explain their plans.

Even so, some of the candidates ran out of time, and were interrupted mid-sentence as their microphones were automatically cut off.

The topic of the third debate was “the concerns of the people,” considered by some observers as broad and overlapping with the subjects already covered in the last two debates, including the economy. The moderator, Morteza Heidari, listed some seven issues as the concerns of the highest priority for the Iranian people, according to surveys he said had been conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). High prices and inflation topped the list.

Soon enough, and in accordance with a model they had already displayed, the candidates grouped into two opposite camps: the Reformists, comprising Nasser Hemmati and Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh; and the Principlists, namely Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Sa’eed Jalili, Ebrahim Raeisi, Mohsen Rezaei, and Alireza Zakani. And almost none of the candidates from one group attacked another from the same side.

But that did not mean that Reformist-versus-Principlist battles were the only ones fought. Criticism of the Rouhani administration was also prevalent.

Many of the candidates promoted a change in governance, although each had a different perception of that reform in mind. Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said a new, younger generation of people had to take over; Hemmati emphasized that economists had to be given a chance to run the country; Jalili highlighted a holistic manner of governance to address the people’s most fundamental concerns; Mehr-Alizadeh warned that the politicization of economic matters had to end; Raeisi highlighted a fight against high-level corruption; Rezaei said he would end factionalism; and Zakani made no secret of his will to purge anyone perceived to be of like mind with President Rouhani.

Economic pledges also featured strongly. Most notably, Zakani promised to halve the inflation rate — currently at a point-on-point average of 50% — by the end of his first year in office.

Rezaei defended a plan to give Iranian households 4,500,000 rials (10.9 dollars) in monthly cash handouts — a promise that has drawn criticism from many, including formerly from fellow-Principlist Zakani.

Raeisi said he would issue “credit cards” to the three lowest economic castes.

And Hemmati said economic growth and stability hinged on tranquil international relations, not disrupted by domestic “hard-liners,” to which Jalili responded by saying that sanctions against Iran were “inevitable” and that the economy had to be inoculated against foreign pressure by a reliance on domestic capacities for growth.

Iran is holding its 13th presidential election on June 18.

President Rouhani has been the target of frequent critiques over high prices and inflation, even though United States sanctions have played a major part in damaging the Iranian economy. Earlier, his administration declined to use an eight-minute air time to respond to criticisms leveled by the candidates in the previous two debates.

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