In the first debate, broadcast live April 28, the moderate incumbent did not appear engaged and kept his silence in the face of his conservative rivals’ attacks and criticisms. Rather, first Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, who is believed to have signed up to run to defend Rouhani and then withdraw in his favor before the May 19 election, was described by Reformist and conservative media alike as a phenomenon, as he harshly countered the conservative challengers. Indeed, many Rouhani supporters and analysts were dissatisfied with the incumbent’s performance in the first debate as they expected him to perform more like he did in the 2013 presidential debates, when he traded barbs with conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and handily defeated him in the election.
However, in the May 5 debate, Rouhani showed off his rhetorical skills from the very first minutes. Prominent Reformist and former Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi said the president appeared happier and more active.
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