TEHRAN – The first of three planned debates ahead of the May 19 elections in Iran received mixed feedback, with most commentators describing either Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf or Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri as the winners of the 3-hour-long debate.
The Candidates for Iran’s Presidential Election:
Top (L to R): Hassan Rohani, Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf
Bottom (L to R): Mostafa Mirsalim, Eshaq Jahangiri and Mostafa Hashemitaba
This came as President Hassan Rouhani and his presumed main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, the custodian of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS) in Mashhad, failed to live up to expectations.
The other two candidates, Mostafa Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemitaba also didn’t receive much attention.
As the debate was nearing its end, President Rouhani and Qalibaf got into a heated argument over Rouhani’s 2013 presidential campaign promises.
Qalibaf criticized Rouhani for failing to fulfil a campaign pledge to create four million jobs, a promise Rouhani denied making, and hit back at the mayor for issuing false statements.
The Tehran mayor further accused the Rouhani administration of dishonesty, mismanagement and supporting the rich at the expense of the poor.
In the aftermath of the debate, several reformist lawmakers responded to Qalibaf’s criticism of the Rouhani administration, comparing him to the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“The level of awareness among people is so high that those who intend to damage another person’s reputation for their own sake will fail miserably,” Saeed Bastani, representative of Torbat Heidarieh said.
Mohammad Hashemi, who served as vice president for executive affairs during the presidency of his older brother, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also said that the debates should not undermine the Islamic Republic.
He praised Rouhani and Raisi for their cautious and tactful approach in the debate. Hashemi then criticized Qalibaf for adopting an aggressive approach which he said was very similar to that of Ahmadinejad.
On the other side of the dispute, Elias Naderan, a former principlist MP, described Rouhani as the “biggest loser of the debate”.
Qalibaf also criticized the state TV for not broadcasting a video which he had prepared to prove his claim.
“I wanted a video to be played but they didn’t allow it,” he said.
Mir-Salim, a conservative candidate, wrote an open letter to the other candidates after the debate, in which he indirectly criticized Rouhani for describing what Qalibaf had said as a lie.
“One should promise things he’s capable of delivering,” Mir-Salim said.
He also said that in the era of communication, with the social media and heightened public awareness, it is very difficult to simply accuse someone of lying.