Iran candidates exchange barbs in fiery final debate

Supporters of Iranian conservative presidential candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, pose for a selfie during a campaign rally in Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2017
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Iran candidates exchange barbs in fiery final debate

TEHRAN: Iran’s six presidential candidates exchanged barbs in their final debate on Friday, accusing each other of corruption and economic mismanagement a week ahead of the election.
Seeking a second four-year term, moderate President Hassan Rouhani has been on the offensive all week, framing the vote as a choice between greater social freedoms and repression.
But the theme of Friday’s debate was the economy, where continued stagnation and high unemployment have given plenty of ammunition to his conservative opponents.
Hard-line Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf repeatedly returned to his theme that Rouhani’s administration had only benefited the “four percenters” at the top of society.
“The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation. A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future,” said Ghalibaf.
“Tens of thousands of our factories have been closed and they are continuing to close.”
Rouhani hit back that Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers had ended sanctions and brought a windfall from the return of oil sales over the past year that could now be invested. “We want to allocate $15 billion for investments... and $3-5 billion for supporting the poor and needy,” he said.
He said handouts would be focused on rural and deprived areas — places where conservatives have tended to perform more strongly.
Cleric and jurist Ebrahim Raisi is seen as the leading conservative, though still a distant second to Rouhani in unofficial polls ahead of the Friday vote. He kept up his efforts to reach out to poor and religiously conservative voters.
“The people expect government members to fear God,” he said.
“Poverty has increased with this government from 23 percent to 33 percent. We must increase direct aid to the poor,” he added, accusing Rouhani’s government of only boosting subsidies at the last minute to grab votes.
“Why did you wait for the election campaign to increase aid? Why didn’t you do it four years ago? The people are intelligent and they will decide.”
The six candidates selected to run by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council are evenly split between moderate-reformists on one side and hard-liners on the other, and the debates have the feel of two teams clashing.
Some of the fiercest exchanges were between Ghalibaf and Iran’s reformist vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, who accused each other of corruption and making empty promises.


Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

  • “Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”
  • Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008

AFP JERUSALEM: A truce in Gaza has left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battling to keep his government afloat after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman walked out in protest.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, welcomed Lieberman’s resignation on Wednesday as a “victory” — but what will it mean for Gaza?

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008, interspersed with simmering hostilities and periodic spikes in violence.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. The Jewish state, like the US and the EU, defines Hamas as a “terrorist” organization. For over a decade Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on the coastal strip.

An apparently botched Israeli army raid into the Gaza Strip triggered the worst escalation in violence since 2014 and brought the two sides to the brink of war.

On Tuesday, Hamas and Israel accepted an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire. Denouncing it as “capitulation,” Lieberman resigned from his post the next day, leaving the government with a majority of just one seat in Parliament.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared the cease-fire with military powerhouse Israel “a political victory.”

It came after Israel in October allowed Qatar to provide Gaza with fuel to help ease its chronic electricity crisis, under a UN-brokered deal.

In parallel, Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker a long-term Gaza-Israel truce in exchange for Israel easing its embargo.

The events of the past week gave a boost to Hamas and its allies, said Gaza political analyst Mukhaimer Abu Saada. “But if there is a war that could change,” he said.

After the pounding Gaza took in 2014, most residents want above all to avoid a rerun. Indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas have eroded the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

A peace initiative by US President Donald Trump is expected to emerge in the next few months. The PA fears that it will drive the wedge even deeper between Gaza the West Bank, two territories long envisaged as part of a unified Palestinian state.

Jamal Al-Fadi, a professor of political science in Gaza, says such a divide suits Israel. “We can not have results against Israel except by unity,” he said.

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed.

With the Israeli political tensions unleashed by Lieberman’s departure, there will be fresh domestic pressure on Netanyahu to hit Hamas harder.

“The coming days will be difficult” for Gaza, Al-Fadi said.

“It was a right-wing government and the (next) elections will bring another right-wing government,” he said.

“Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”