Iran Presidential Candidates Zero In on Economy in Last Debate

Iran Presidential Candidates Zero In on Economy in Last Debate

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Six men running for the Iranian presidency have faced off in the third and final round of nationally televised debates to discuss economic issues and make last-ditch efforts to defend their plans and criticize those of the rivals.

Known as one of the most-watched programs in the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting history, the debate began at 16:30 local time with economy as the main theme.

During the past two debates, each of which lasted for more than three hours, the candidates discussed socio-cultural and political subjects.

Allotted equal minutes of speaking time each, the candidates are explicating their plans to deal with the country’s major economic problems after taking the office.

Each of the candidates has been asked a question, chosen by drawing, about the major economic woes and his plans to tackle them.

As in the previous round, every candidate had four minutes to outline his plans, while the other five men had two minutes each to comment on the presentation. Then the candidate had five minutes to comment on other candidates' criticism.

There are six candidates in the race for the highest executive post in Iran, including the incumbent president himself. They have been singled out by the Guardian Council from among more than 1,600 applicants seeking presidency.

Three of the candidates categorized as “reformists” include President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, and Mostafa Hashemitaba.

The other three, known for belonging to the “principlist” political faction, include Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, the chief custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (AS) in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim.

The first candidate taking the podium was First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, who was asked about the ways to crack down on contraband smuggling and reduce imports in order to meet the Resistance Economy goals. Hailing the current administration’s success to halve the value of smuggled goods and decrease it to $12 billion a year, Jahangiri said special plans have been formulated to further reduce contraband commodities by identifying ten major items being smuggled into the country.

In response, Hashemitaba bemoaned the fact that commodities are being smuggled into the country via 114 ports across the country. Qalibaf also denounced the administration for its failure to provide investment security and for letting its officials, including ministers, to get involved in trade activities.

As the second question, Mirsalim was asked about his plans to boost the exports, cut down crude oil sales, and reduce dependence on petrodollars. In reply, he emphasized the need for lowering crude oil sales, and called for practical ways to prevent the exports of Iranian products to the third countries at a higher price via a destination market.

For his part, Raisi questioned the administration’s performance in countering corruption. Hashemitaba also stressed that Resistance Economy plan will come true only if the local production is “export-oriented.” But Qalibaf again took the opportunity to lash out at a small minority with administrative posts whom he accused of hampering exports because of interests in imports.

When Hassan Rouhani took the podium and was asked about the overriding banking problems and his plans to facilitate targeted loans for the housing sector and for marriage, he took a swipe at his successor for founding illegal credit institutes. Rouhani also questioned his rivals’ pledges to increase cash handouts to the public, arguing that such mistake will push up inflation.

Raisi, in response, criticized President Rouhani’s administration for failing to attract enough foreign investment by tapping into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear agreement between Iran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and Germany).

Qalibaf, for his part, decried the administration for tripling the amount of bankroll and for inaction on employment. Mirsalim also criticized the current banking system and traditional approaches to running the banks.

The fourth candidate answering questions was Hashemitaba, who was asked about the ways to boost domestic production and create sustainable jobs particularly for the university graduates.

Hashemitaba reiterated the need for the production of export-oriented products, for attracting foreign investment, and reforming the country’s banking system.

The next candidate taking the podium was Ebrahim Raisi, who was asked about the plans on proceeding with the subsidy reform plan. In his reply, Raisi put an emphasis on the even distribution of wealth and special care for the needy.

But in reaction, Jahangiri warned that any rise in the cash handouts will result in more expensive fuel, or a cut in the salaries of the government personnel.

The last candidate answering questions was Qalibaf, who was asked about the priorities for economic growth in compliance with the 2025 grand plan. However, mayor of Tehran took his time to hammer the administration for its performance leading to the closure of factories and unemployment.

Mirsalim, for his part, called for serious fight against corruption. Raisi also highlighted the need for privatization of industries. And Hashemitaba called for reliance on scientific recommendations by the economists.

Overall, each of the candidates have been allocated over 1,100 minutes to talk about their campaign pledges in various radio and television programs aired by IRIB.

On Wednesday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei recommended the candidates to focus on economic issues and the plans to improve the livelihood of people in their campaign pledges.

The presidential election will be held next Friday. During the previous polls in June 2013, Rouhani garnered 50.7 percent of a total of over 36 million votes.

Authorities say the number of eligible voters in the May 19 elections stands at more than 56,400,000.

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