Tehran mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf says Iran needs no more of the same as he lambastes President Hassan Rouhani's political and economic policies.
Qalibaf is heading to the May 19 showdown, with Rouhani being seen as the front-runner against him and another serious contender Ebrahim Raeisi plus three other low-key candidates in the presidential race.
Qalibaf, who conceded the election to Rouhani last time in 2013, said on Monday that his goals and those of Mr. Raeisi (pictured below) were identical as he spelled out his election agenda.
"At this juncture, all of us have a common goal and are determined not to let this administration repeat itself," Qalibaf said in a meeting with a group of Principlist lawmakers in Tehran.
"More of this administration would mean the revolutionary ideals and the country's economy being put in harm's way. This is the goal which I share with Mr. Raeisi," he added.
Qalibaf touched on some of the current administration's weaknesses, including its perceived poor record on the question of unemployment. "At present, creating five million new jobs is a requirement."
He also cited the government's bulging budget as another area of liability, saying Rouhani had seen it grow thrice to more than $86 billion over a period of three years.
"Is there any room left for growth under these circumstances," Qalibaf asked, according to the Fars news agency.
The current government is credited with keeping inflation in check after it shot up to 40% under Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, Rouhani has presided over an economic inertia which has exacerbated Iran’s unemployment problem.
Critics point the finger at Rouhani’s economic team, saying it is oblivious to a bloated financial sector which has been thriving for years at the expense of a cash-strapped production sector.
He started his tenure with a promise to put Iran’s economic boat back on an even keel, but many analysts believe the administration is now rudderless more than any time.
Rouhani, who was written off when he won the election last time, faces a tougher-than-expected fight, leaving many Iranians wondering whether another shock is on the cards.
On Sunday, the national broadcaster IRIB went back on a decision not to give the candidates live air time to debate their programs or criticize their rivals.
Three other candidates are Rouhani's deputy Is’haq Jahangiri, member of the Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim and former vice president and minister Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.
Some 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote for a new president in what is expected to be a close race. The two major factions in the elections are Reformists which support Rouhani and Principlists backing Raeisi.