Latest Presidential Debate Shows Iran’s Political Cracks | world news

By AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press

Tehran, Iran (AP) — Iran held a final presidential debate on Saturday that showed the cracks within the Islamic Republic’s politics, as hardliners slammed those seeking ties to the Occident of “undercover” and that the other two candidates in the race spoke of the unrest. that surrounded the disputed 2009 election in Tehran.

Analysts and state-linked polls put hardline justice leader Ebrahim Raisi ahead in Friday’s poll, with the public now largely hostile to relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani after Tehran’s nuclear deal collapsed with Iran. world powers.

But that didn’t stop former Rohani Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati from harshly criticizing Raisi, at one point rising from his chair to hand him a list he described as naming people who failed to repay huge loans from state banks. He again tried to link Raisi to former President Donald Trump, whose decision to unilaterally pull America out of the Iran nuclear deal saw the country crushed by sanctions.

“Mr. Raisi, you and your friends played on Trump’s turf with your extremist policies,” Hemmati said.

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For his part, Raisi called Hemmati’s decision a stunt and said he would ensure the government returned to the nuclear deal.

The deal “wouldn’t be executed by you, it needs a strong government to do it,” Raisi said.

Friday’s election will see voters choose a candidate to replace Rouhani, who has a time limit to run again. The vote comes amid tensions with the West as talks continue to try to resuscitate the nuclear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of economic sanctions .

The debate echoed the pattern of previous ones, with hardliners focusing their criticism on Hemmati as Rouhani’s replacement. Diehard Alireza Zakani has gone so far as to accuse Hemmati of committing “enormous betrayal” by sharing financial information with the International Monetary Fund. Former Revolutionary Guard leader Mohsen Rezaei has described the Rouhani government as being run by “infiltrators”.

Hemmati, who has raised his eyebrows in recent days after telling The Associated Press in an interview that he would potentially be willing to speak with President Joe Biden, said his government would not consider Saudi Arabia and the Emirates Arabs united as enemies. He also warned that without agreements with the rest of the world, Iran’s economy would not grow.

“What if the hardliners have power?” Hemmati asked. “I tell you there will be more sanctions with a global consensus.”

It remains unclear whether the debates will affect voters’ opinions. Iran’s state-linked Student Polling Agency suggested that only 37% of Iranian adults watched the second debate.

There also remains the greatest concern regarding voter turnout. In the past, officials have said the turnout was a sign of popular support for Iran’s theocratic government. From now on, ISPA estimates that voter turnout will be around 41% of the more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran. This would be the lowest percentage since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The ISPA poll also puts Raisi in the lead with enough percentage to avoid a second round.

But unlike previous debates, Hemmati and a quiet reformist candidate named Mohsen Mehralizadeh raised mass protests that directly challenged the government. Mehralizadeh at one point asked Raisi to intervene with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to pardon those still detained after nationwide protests in November 2019 over Iran-subsidized gasoline price hikes. State.

Those protests ended with a lawmaker suggesting that 7,000 people had been arrested. Amnesty International put the death toll from the violence at at least 208, with the rights group saying security forces killed protesters. Iran has yet to offer a definitive account of what happened.

Responding to Mehralizadeh later, Raisi said most of those arrested “were pardoned by the Supreme Leader, except those who had connections with other countries or had other issues.” He did not provide any figures for those pardoned and those still detained.

The 2019 protests were the deadliest since Iran’s 2009 presidential vote that saw hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected amid a disputed result that sparked the Green Movement protests.

“What happened to our young people in those 12 years that changed their chants of ‘Where’s my vote?’ to ‘No question that I vote?’ asked Hemmati at one point.

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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