Hoping to regain the initiative against Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the May 19 election, both hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf have requested separate, face-to-face televised debates with the incumbent.

Mohammad Amin Tavakkolizadeh, a Raisi representative, wrote letters to the heads of State broadcaster IRIB and of the Election Campaign Monitoring Committee, Ehsan Qazizadeh. The head of Qalibaf’s campaign, Mohammad Dehqan, said Rouhani must respond to public opinion about comments he made during the third and final debate on Friday.

Polls show Rouhani at 43% to 45%, short of a first-round majority to avoid a runoff against one of the challengers next month. However, after a lackluster first debate, the President has been on the offensive in the next two, defending the Government’s record — including the July 2015 nuclear deal with the 5+1 Powers — and responding to Raisi and Qalibaf’s challenges on the economy with questions about mismanagement, repression, and corruption by each of the two men.

On Friday, Rouhani implicitly referred to the role of Raisi, a former Attorney General, in the 1988 mass execution about 5,000 political detainees. He noted that the cleric, who heads the billion-dollar Astan Quds Razavi religious foundation, had paid no taxes and is able to offer inducements to people to vote for him.

Turning to Qalibaf, the President noted questions about the Tehran Mayor’s propriety over financial matters. Rouhani said he had a file about the violent repression of protests by the candidate, then head of Tehran police, when Tehran university students demonstrated in 1999.

Raisi and Qalibaf have tried to turn the corruption allegations against Rouhani, pointing to his brother and senior advisor Hossein Fereydoun. Fereydoun has been implicated in an alleged currency manipulation by a leading Iranian bank and banned from seeing the Supreme Leader over the past year.

Rouhani Rally Hails Detained & Repressed Opposition Leaders

An enthusiastic rally of 20,000 Rouhani supporters chanted for detained and repressed opposition leaders on Saturday.

Packing the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, the crowd chanted over and over at deafening volume, “Mousavi! Karroubi! Khatami!”

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, Green Movement leaders and candidates in the disputed 2009 Presidential election “won” by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been under strict house arrest since February 2011. Mohammad Khatami, President from 1997 to 2005, is banned from travelling abroad and Iranian media are barred from published his quotes and picture.

The crowd roared when images of the three men appeared on the screen.

Rouhani did not mention Mousavi and Karroubi in his speech, but was cheered when he told the crowd he had not “forgotten his promises” during his 2013 campaign, which including the freeing of political prisoners.

“Either they have been achieved, or I have been prevented from keeping them,” he said.

The speech continued the President’s theme that his re-election is needed to prevent further repression by elements of Iran’s regime, such as the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guards.

“Let us salute freedom, salute reforms, salute moderation, salute the wise leader, salute Mohammad Khatami,” he declared.

The English-language State outlet Press TV ignores Rouhani’s comments about political and social freedom and the crowd’s chants, focusing solely on the President’s remarks about the economy.


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Photos by Atta Kenare/AFP

TOP PHOTO: Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ebrahim Raisi, and Hassan Rouhani in the third Presidential debate, May 12, 2017