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Candidates fire first salvos in Iran presidential race

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo shows a view of a 2013 presidential election debate broadcast live in Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) will air the draw for broadcasting live debates of presidential candidates on Sunday which saw one candidate launching his first criticism of the current administration.

The IRIB public relations office said representatives of the candidates will attend the ceremony at 10:00 p.m. local time (0530 GMT).

Radio Iran as well as IRIB TV1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) channels will broadcast the event.

On Saturday, the Election Campaign Monitoring Committee revised an earlier decision not to broadcast live presidential debates after criticism from candidates and many Iranians.

Iran’s Interior Ministry spokesman Seyyed Salman Samani said the decision was rescinded after members of the panel agreed by consensus to give live air time to the candidates to discuss their election plans. 

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First debate on Friday

On Sunday, Ehsan Qazizadeh Hashemi, a member of the IRIB council for presidential election campaigns, said the first three-hour debate will be held on Friday.

Iranians will go to the polls on May 19 to elect the country’s next president.  

Campaigning for the vote officially started on April 21 after the five-day registration process for Iran’s 12th presidential election ended on April 15 and the Guardian Council started vetting presidential election hopefuls the following day.

The six candidates qualified to run in the race are Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, Es’haq Jahangiri, Hassan Rouhani, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf and Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi.  

On the campaign trail, Rouhani traveled to the northern city of Qazvin while Mirsalim held his first press conference in Tehran to stress that he will not leave the field in favor of any candidate.

He also took aim at the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers under the Rouhani administration, saying it has failed to lift sanctions or improve the country's economy.

Mirsalim said if elected, he would abide by the nuclear deal but the US President Donald Trump's administration had already undermined the agreement. 

Qalibaf traveled to Sari in the Caspian Sea and plans to go next to the holy city of Qom on Monday when Raeisi will visit Iran's southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan province near the border with Pakistan.

Some 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote for a new president in what is expected to be a close race. Previous election results have usually produced major surprises.

The two major factions in the elections are Reformists and Principlists. Rouhani narrowly won the election last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided Principlist camp which Raeisi represents this time around.

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