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Iran presidential candidates begin second live face-off

The six Iranian presidential candidates attend their second live debate in Tehran on May 5, 2017. (Photo by Fars news agency)

The six candidates contesting the 12th Iranian presidential election face off in the second live televised debate.

During the debate on Friday, the candidates further elaborated on their plans and agendas as they campaign for the May vote.

The hopefuls outlined their agendas on domestic and foreign policy as well as cultural issues.

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

In an interview upon arrival at the headquarters of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the incumbent Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who is running for a second term, said debates in principle aim to acquaint the nation with the thoughts and agendas of the candidates.

If quotes are precisely cited in the debates and there is no character assassination, blackwashing or slander, that debate is true and genuine, Rouhani said.

The Iranian president was apparently referring to the allegations made against him by another candidate in the previous debate, which he has vehemently dismissed as misquotes.  

The previous debate, which took place last week, revolved around social issues and involved a verbal back and forth among Qalibaf on the one side and Rouhani and Jahangiri on the other.

The debate gathered Rouhani, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, member of Iran’s Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi, the current custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH) in the northeastern city of Mashhad and former vice president Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.

On April 30, Rouhani lodged a complaint with Iran’s Election Campaign Monitoring Committee against Qalibaf over three different accusations leveled against him during the first live TV debate. Rouhani complained to the committee that he was not given enough time to respond to Qalibaf’s accusations.

The current mayor of Tehran has also filed a complaint with Iran’s Election Campaign Monitoring Committee about the additional time given to Rouhani.

Raeisi also filed a written complaint with the election monitoring committee about the procedure of the first live debate.

Aqa-Mirsalim, another presidential candidate, also sent a letter to the polls monitoring committee in protest at the way various issues were raised in the debate, saying they had nothing to do with the main subject of the debate.

The six Iran presidential hopefuls

Lots were drawn to determine the seating arrangement of the hopefuls. 

Morteza Heidari, as in the first round, was the moderator today. There had been complaints against him by the Qalibaf camp after the first round. 

Heidari laid out the format of the debate and read out a statement by the election monitoring committee, asking the candidates to observe the rules and regulations of the debate.

Scientific progress

Qalibaf was drawn first to answer a question about scientific progress in the country and his plans to boost it. He said cultural issues are the root of economic issues in the country, suggesting that the current officials in the education ministry cannot be relied upon to carry out their responsibilities.

Presidential candidates took turns to express their views on Qalibaf’s remarks with Rouhani saying that it is necessary to build cultural infrastructure for promoting the cultural status of the country. Hashemi-Taba said faculty members of universities must only focus on educating students. Jahangiri also said serious measures must be taken to improve teachers’ livelihood. Raeisi criticized the fall in the pace of Iran’s scientific progress in the recent years.

Qalibaf retook the podium to answer the candidates’ questions and said smuggling has caused the most major problems for the economy.

Interaction with critics

Aqa-Mirsalim, the second hopeful taking to the podium, was asked to outline his approaches for interacting with other political parties. He said embracing criticism is the only way for any administration’s success. He criticized the 11th administration for failing to embrace criticism and insulting critics. Aqa-Mirsalim said lack of criticism means that the people are not willing to play a role in the country’s progress.

Hashemi-Taba said some media outlets have targeted the 11th administration with the harshest of attacks. Jahangiri also said everybody must welcome constructive criticism and added that the current administration was successful in handling critics and promoting social liberties. Raeisi also said the administration of President Rouhani has attacked its critics and used insulting expressions in response to them.

Aqa-Mirsalim once again took to the podium to answer the candidates’ questions and said the current administration has not been successful in helping the realization of citizenship rights.

Nuclear rights

Raeisi, the third candidate at the podium, used his four-minute time to express his plans to prevent any violation of Iran’s nuclear rights. He said the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, must be respected by all involved parties. He added that negative signals were sent to the opposite side during the nuclear negotiations. Raeisi said the incumbent president had promised that all sanctions would be removed after the JCPOA conclusion but this has not happened.

Qalibaf said the JCPOA has failed either to solve Iran’s economic problems or improve people’s livelihood. Aqa-Mirsalim said the nuclear agreement proved to the world that Iran does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. Rouhani said the presidential candidates must clearly inform the Iranian people of their plans concerning the JCPOA and interact with the world. He added that the JCPOA has led to the removal of all nuclear-related sanctions and emphasized that Iran would be exporting 200,000 barrels of oil per day if the JCPOA had not been reached. Jahangiri said the nuclear agreement was one of the greatest achievements in Iran’s history and added that Iran’s oil exports would have stopped if the deal were not reached.

Raeisi said the JCPOA has failed to end Iran’s economic recession and remove all banking sanctions but added that all Iranian administrations must be committed to the nuclear agreement.

Foreign policy

Hashemi-Taba, the fifth candidate taking to the podium, answered a debate question about his most important priorities of the foreign policy. He said different governments must be dealt with in different ways and added that the country must appear strong in the face of elements that take orders from the Israeli regime and arrogant powers. Hashemi-Taba also said Iran must take every step to strengthen the country's defense sector. 

Jahangiri said the country must make the most of public diplomacy at the international level. The current vice president added that tourism, arts and sports are major fields for interaction with other nations. He emphasized that Iran’s soft power must increase in parallel with its hard power. Raeisi said Iran must pursue a strong economic diplomacy in its relations with other countries. He stressed the importance of protecting the rights of the Iranian citizens in all countries. Qalibaf said the country must use all forms of diplomacy in its interactions with others and added that the 11th administration lacks coherence with regard to international trade. Rouhani said his administration brought about the realization of the country’s rights in the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group of countries through a powerful diplomacy.

Hashemi-Taba said Iran can use its energy exports to cement relations with other countries and added that exports are a major factor in implementing Resistance Economy. He emphasized that necessary guarantees must be given to investors to attract investment.

Defense and national security

Jahangiri took the podium, as the fifth candidate, to explain his plans to boost Iran’s defense power and national security. He said a president needs to have experience in dealing with domestic and international issues and expressed disapproval of the fact that Iran’s cultural power has not taken advantage of properly.

The presidential candidates took turns to express their views on Jahangiri’s remarks with Raeisi saying that the Iranian people’s presence was the most important component of national might. Aqa-Mirsalim said the 11th administration reduced the research budget to below 0.5 percent. Rouhani said Iran is currently considered as a big power in the region and the world, adding that the Islamic Republic’s international standing has been greatly improved in comparison with the past.

Jahangiri used his five-minute time to answer the questions raised by other candidates and said Iran’s culture was the most important source of the country's power.

Iranian-Islamic lifestyle

Last but not least Rouhani took to the podium to answer a question about promoting Iranian-Islamic lifestyle. He said the Iranian people must choose between a totalitarian administration and an administration promoting freedoms. He added that Iran’s president belongs to all people.

The presidential candidates took turns to express their views on Rouhani’s remarks with Jahangiri saying that the improving of lifestyles would reduce excessive use of the country’s resources. Raeisi said the optimal use of resources and the promotion of national unity are the major components of an Iranian-Islamic lifestyle. Qalibaf said cultural affairs must be managed by cultural figures. The mayor of Tehran added that cultural activities have greatly advanced in the capital in recent years. Aqa-Mirsalim, meanwhile, criticized the 11th administration for failing to promote an Iranian-Islamic lifestyle.

In response to the allegations against his administration, the incumbent president said some candidates are giving empty promises on economic growth to the Iranians.

With all the six candidates having taken to the podium, the moderator announced the end of the first section of the debate and called a break before the beginning of the second round.

Round II

In the second section, each candidate was given two minutes to answer a question raised by the moderator. Draws determined the candidate and the question posed to him.

Jahangiri, going first, explained his plans to use arts to boost cultural potentialities and said no unlawful limitation must be imposed on artistic activities.

As per the draw, Qalibaf next responded to a question about his plans to boost the training aspect of the education system in the country and said some officials are willing to use foreign investment more than domestic potentialities.

Aqa-Mirsalim was asked about his plans to boost cooperation among the three branches of the government. He said all branches of the government must cooperate to solve the country’s problems. He added that close cooperation is needed between the executive and legislative branches.

Hashemi-Taba, for his part, responded to a question about his plans to manage cyberspace. He said problematic cyberspace content must be controlled.

Rouhani answered a question about his plans to promote non-extravagant lifestyles and said the previous administration wasted billions of people’s assets due to its carelessness. He added that his administration seeks to implement the transparency law.

Raeisi, the last candidate speaking in this part, explained his plans about the ways to improve teachers’ living standards and said the necessary facilities must be provided to elevate the scientific level of teachers. He added that due attention must be paid to improving the livelihood of teachers.

Concluding remarks

The final segment of the debate concerned the candidates' concluding remarks in which they offered a recap of their points, plans, agendas as well as their final statements in the time allotted to them so that all of the hopefuls would have had equal speaking time.

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