TEHRAN -- Candidates in Iran’s presidential election this month traded strong barbs in a debate on Saturday, focusing mostly on the country’s economy which is under years of U.S. sanctions.
While the five Principlist candidates criticized the eight-year performance of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, the leading Reformist candidate, former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, angrily claimed that heightened tensions with the West had worsened Iran’s economic problems.
In the first of three debates ahead of the June 18 vote, Mohsen Rezaee accused Hemmati of “fully complying” with U.S. sanctions and said he should face treason charges.
“If I become president, I will ban Hemmati and a number of other officials of the Rouhani government from leaving the country, and I will prove in court which treacherous roles they played,” Rezaee, an economics doctorate holder, said in the televised three-hour debate.
“You have closed off our economy and our foreign contacts...I ask you and your friends, companies and institutions to please pull out of our economy, and then Iran’s economy will surely improve,” responded Hemmati, an economics professor.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh, another Reformist politician, claimed that the economy could not be run by those with only traditional clerical studies, such as Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.
“You have only six years of classic education, and while respecting your seminary studies, I must say that one cannot manage the economy and draw up plans for the country with this much education,” claimed Mehralizadeh, whose remarks prompted a wave of outcry from many Iranians.
Raisi blasted Rouhani’s government
over galloping inflation and the rapid fall in the value of Iran’s currency, and rejected comments by Hemmati and other Reformists who blame U.S. sanctions for Iran’s economic troubles.
“This is like a goalkeeper who lets in 17 goals... and then says without me it would have been 30 goals!” said Raisi, who holds a doctorate in Islamic law.
Iranians are set to elect a successor to Rouhani on June 18 amid widespread discontent over his government’s mishandling of the economy.
Iran’s Constitutional Council approved seven candidates to run from a field of about 600 hopefuls. Raisi is widely seen as a favorite, with many people praising him for his decisive dealing with corruption in his capacity as judiciary chief.
On Saturday, candidates called on Hemmati to take responsibility for the crisis, and accused him of seeking to defend the government’s record.
“Mr Hemmati, your governance was catastrophic, you are sitting here as a representative of Mr Rouhani,” said Rezaee.
Rouhani is the main architect of the 2015 nuclear agreement which has been on life support since then-U.S. president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018, and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.
Raisi, who took 38 percent of the vote in the 2017 presidential election, avoided direct clashes with the Reformists and held his temper even as his rivals unleashed a rage of bad-tempered vitriol.
“Inflation is one of the serious problems people are facing today. The price of basic products has gone up considerably,” he said, adding that the “dishonesty of certain officials” is one of the main worries of the Iranian people.
Further televised debates are due to be held on Tuesday and Saturday.