Iranian presidential debate becomes farce

Three of eight candidates for June vote fight with moderator over format, questions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 June, 2013, 7:58am

Iran's first debate among candidates for the presidency degenerated into acrimony live on state television when, instead of discussing the economy, some of the hopefuls resorted to sniping over the questions and format.

The testy exchange between the moderator and reformist Mohammad Reza Aref, moderate Hassan Rohani, and conservative Mohsen Rezaie was the subject of wide ridicule by Iranian viewers who had tuned in for the four-hour discussion on Friday.

They were among eight candidates for the June 14 vote presenting their ideas.

The three, seated with their colleagues in a line of desks in front of a backdrop of flowers and rolling woodland, said the format was farcical and did not allow them to present their plans to the country or engage in dialogue with one another.

Several times they simply refused to answer the question.

"In honour of the dear people of my country I will sit here, but I will answer none of your test questions," Aref said.

"I am a patient person and I can tolerate a lot," added Rezaie. "With these repetitive, discontinuous, short, one-to-three-minute answers, the people are being harmed and the eight people up here are being insulted."

Rohani, the most prominent moderate candidate in an election dominated by hardliners, said: "People will see this style of debate as insulting."

Nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign-policy adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, considered the front runners, mostly kept quiet.

Some Iranian citizens were dismissive of the way the debate played out.

"Compared with the debates four years ago, where each candidate could discuss issues in more detail, this one was really bad," said Neda, 27, in Tehran. "They didn't have enough time to go into any details. I know nothing more about them now than before this debate."

"It was not properly planned at all. Candidates didn't have time to go into details and therefore their answers were very vague," shop worker Ali, 27, said from Tehran.

Yasmin Alem, a US-based expert on Iran's electoral system, said Friday's debate showed that Iran's leadership had tried to introduce a less explosive format.

"After what came to pass in the heated 2009 debates, the leadership in Tehran has decided to dumb down the process to a point where it now borders on ridicule," she said.