Iran's Leading Presidential Candidate Cancels Rallies After Covid Criticism
Rival candidates have attacked Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi), widely seen as the frontrunner in Iran's June 18 presidential elections, for allegedly violating Covid-19 public-health regulations in a campaign rally June 9 in the south-western city of Ahvaz.
Reformist and former vice-president Mohsen Mehralizadeh raised the issue in the third and final televised candidates’ debate Saturday. Mehralizadeh mocked Raeesi’s professed commitment to a more egalitarian Iran: "A couple of days ago Mr Raeesi staged a showoff and gathered thousands…I'm afraid instead of becoming the president of the impoverished, he will now become the president of the dead.”
Abdolnaser Hemmati, the former central bank governor, had also criticized Raeesi over the Ahvaz rally in a tweet Thursday [June 10], suggesting “the president should sacrifice himself for the people, not to sacrifice people to himself for getting votes.”
In the presidential debate, Raeesi responded to Mehralizadeh that the campaign meeting had complied with regulations set by health authorities. After photos and videos circulated on social media showing thousands mingling at the rally, a similar event planned for Shiraz Thursday was cancelled. Today [Sunday June 13] his campaign announced the cancellation of a third meeting due in Esfahan later in the day.
Within hours of the presidential debate, the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce (NCCT) issued a statement saying Raeesi's rally had broken health protocols and social distancing regulations set for the meeting, including spacing participants four meters apart.
The taskforce's statement said that Raeesi's rally, given a two-hour time limit, had been delayed for three hours to allow time for busing in people from nearby towns and villages. There were only 400 at the stadium before they arrived, the statement said.
On Thursday, a day after Raeesi's Ahvaz rally, President Hassan Rouhani instructed the interior minister to take action against candidates violating Covid protocols in their campaign activities. Ahwaz, the provincial capital of Khuzestan, and 13 other town and cities in the province are among 201 in the Iran in the ‘orange’ Covid tier.
The Medical Sciences University of Ahvaz in a statement on Friday said it had stationed 70 health workers to screen participants at the rally, take rapid tests and distribute masks, but that size of crowd meant the situation slipped out of hand.
"Getting a permit doesn't solve anything,” journalist Mohammad Delavari said Saturday in a program broadcast by Shabakeh Ara, an internet TV channel launched recently by IRB, the state broadcaster. “It is obvious that controlling people is very difficult when you invite people to get together at a stadium and you showed that you couldn't control them.”
Delavari, who said he had received a text message sent to mobile subscribers inviting them to attend the rally, reminded the chief justice that he would have to make similar difficult and vital decisions everyday if he became president.