Iran’s ‘Presidential Debate’ Turns into Rouhani Hatefest

In this picture made available by Young Journalists Club, YJC, leading presidential candidate for June 18, elections Ebrahim Raisi, center, leaves as other candidates Alireza Zakani, left, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, center at rear, and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, are seen at the conclusion of their second TV debate in a state-run …
Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/ Young Journalists Club, YJC via AP

Iran held the second debate in its farcical “presidential election” on Tuesday, giving the seven candidates not preemptively disqualified by the theocratic Guardian Council a chance to square off.

The five “hardline” candidates spent much of their time attacking outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and his administration.

Iran will hold its election on June 18. Most international observers and human rights advocates have preemptively dismissed the election as a sham, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gets the ultimate say in who succeeds Rouhani and, as his title implies, maintains full control of the country regardless of who is president. The candidates in the debate are those that Khamenei’s Guardian Council personally approved of — meaning no one Khamanei disapproves of gets the opportunity to run.

Iran’s state-run PressTV touted the debate as a battle royale between “principlists” and “moderate reformists” in which the former savaged the “moderate” Rouhani’s eight years in office. Candidate Sa’eed Jalili accused the outgoing administration, and Rouhani personally, of pursuing ineffective policies “for show” to mollify the unhappy public.

The two reformists pushed back by accusing the hardliners of ruining Iran’s economy by stoking tensions with the Western world.

The second debate was described as less fiery and confrontational than the first, in part, because of stricter rules that one candidate sarcastically compared to a TV quiz show. The first debate featured former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Mohsen Rezaei threatening to put rival candidate and former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati on trial for treason.

There was still a bit of personal sniping between the candidates, such as “frontrunner” Ebrahim Raesi complaining that rival Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh’s campaign was portraying him as uneducated and underqualified for the presidency — a charge Raesi’s campaign responded to by circulating photos of his doctoral certificate.

PressTV noted a bit of squabbling over what passes for progressive issues in Iranian politics, as the hardliners insisted they were not misogynists. Candidate Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi “said half-jokingly that he would appoint all of his cabinet members from among women to end the question of how many women will be employed by each candidate.”

Several of the hardline candidates insisted they were every bit as reform-minded as the reformists, and all insisted they were serious candidates determined to stay in the race, not just “back-ups” for the heavily favored Raesi who intended to drop out in the homestretch and throw their support to him.

A grumpy President Rouhani responded to the attacks on his record during the debate on Wednesday, suggesting the candidates who criticized him are suffering “memory loss” brought on by their “love for power.”

Rouhani tossed a few veiled barbs at frontrunner Raesi, a powerful cleric seen as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He blasted the hardliners as poor on women’s rights, overly eager to censor Iran’s internet, and likely to make Iran’s economy even worse by scuttling any chance of the United States returning to the nuclear deal.

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