Second Presidential Debate In Iran ‘As Dull As A No-Goal Soccer Game’
In their second televised debate Tuesday afternoon, three of the seven candidates in the controversial June 18 presidential elections − Mohsen Rezaei (Rezaee), Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, and Saeed Jalili − criticized the state broadcaster (IRIB) for choosing a format and questions that did not allow them to adequately engage with each other.
"This is not a debate, it's more like an IQ test," Jalili protested, proposing one-on-one debates between candidates.
Alireza Zakani brought up population growth, not mentioned by others, and said if elected his government would offer benefits for those needing fertility treatment and would facilitate marriage to increase population to 2.3 percent from the current 1.7 percent.
With Iran’s population ageing and the country set to become one of the world’s oldest within 30 years, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has suggested that that the population should increase to 150 million in 50 years.
As in the first debate on Saturday, most of the five principlist candidates emphasized the importance of tackling poverty. Rezaei, the former Revolutionary Guard commander who has run for president twice before, reiterated that his government would pay a monthly salary to housewives.
One Twitter user described the debate as "cold, like a no-goal soccer (football) game." Some on social media suggested that this resulted from Khamenei’s insistence on May 27 that that voters were more interested in economic questions related to their livelihoods than foreign policy or access to social media platforms
After the first debate on Sunday, described as “fiery and bruising” by the London Guardian, some media and social media users criticized the format. Candidates were not asked the same questions, with each given a different pre-prepared question making it impossible for viewers to compare answers.
Several presidential hopefuls were not allowed to stand as candidates by the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, and therefore not part of the debates. This include former principlist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who retains a strong following, and former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.
"The second debate is even worse than the first one, so low quality that even some candidates are protesting," Communications and Information Technology Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted(link is external) during the debate. Azari-Jahromi said he had no hope that the format would be corrected because "a few people desire this trend.”
The second debate did not address the Vienna talks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the impact of the Covid pandemic on the Iranian economy, nor Iran’s 25-year strategic deal with China signed on March 27.
Even approved candidates cannot be sure they can stand in the race. After the first debate Ahmad Jannati, Friday prayer leader of Tehran and a member of the Guardian Council, threatened the candidates that the council could bar them from running "until the last minute" before the vote.
A poll by the government-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), published Tuesday and taken June 6-7, found nearly 70 percent of eligible voters saying they had not watched the first debate.
Many analysts expect turnout in the June 18 elections to be the lowest in the past four decades. Fifty-nine million Iranians are eligible to vote on June 18 with 1.5 million first-time voters.
Some social media users have also suggested casting blank ballots to protest against the Guardian Council not including their favored candidates. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday banned blank ballots by a religious edict, calling it "haram.”