Third televised debate sparks very different reactions

Iranian Diplomacy- The final round of televised debates, held on Friday, has to a large extent crystalized the candidates’ constituencies. While pro-reform advocates have hailed Rouhani’s outperforming other contenders as a determining factor that would mobilize the majority of swing votes, aficionados of Ebrahim Raisi are praising his etiquette as an embodiment of moral values in a revolutionary system of government. In a ping pong of accusations that started, as usual, by Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf, Raisi stood away from the line of fire, while Qalibaf himself suffered severe blows, including an own goal when he said he had given astronomical real state discounts not to his close circle, as Reformists claimed, but to “street sweepers”.

 On Saturday, all the Iranian media were talking about was the debate. The Reformist Shargh Daily’s above the fold was covered with a photo taken during the third and last televised debate, featuring Rouhani serenely strolling behind VP Eshaq Jahangiri, who is busy browsing his notes. Sat on the left side of the photo was the headline, reading “Coup de Grace to Contenders”. Ahmad Gholami’s editorial discussed at length how Rouhani is indebted to his enemies, whose constant revealed their true nature. The same headline does justice for another pro-reform daily, Etemad Newspaper, which puts it on a backstage image of the debate, one again featuring President and his VP, this time with the latter leaning toward his boss as if to say something.

An op-ed written by Ahmad Khorram hails the importance of the third debate, as it illuminated many issues for the people and helped determine everything. At the end of the piece, Khorram underlined Rouhani’s final remarks during the debate, where he expressed readiness to help lift the remaining [nonn-nuclear] sanctions, if reelected. “Today, efforts by the Administration of Prudence and Hope has cracked the nuclear sanctions, but the human rights sanctions remain in place. If there be such a resolution in the establishment, Rouhani is prepared to negotiate them too,” the article adds.

 Kayhan daily’s cover story of the debate predictably put forward a radically different take. Its sarcastic headline somehow put these words in the mouth of Rouhani and allies: “People’s Livelihood is Quite Good [Already], and It’ll Be Perfect in Four Years!” with the kicker saying pro-administration candidates denied the economic catastrophe of the past four years. In its signature style of investigative reports, Kayhan ran a story dedicated to prove that accusations brought up against the Rouhani administration including Iran-Crescent Deal are undeniable.

 Another hardliner outlet, Vatan Emrooz, highlighted the unsubstantiated allegations Tehran mayor made against Rouhani and Jahangiri as evidence they have used privilegium. Javan daily, affiliated with the IRGC, covered the debate, highlighting what it sees to be the administration’s insistence on the status quo. The newspaper twisted Rouhani’s criticism of rivals over their plans to inject money into the society against him.

 While most sides have been complaining that opponents have committed breaches of campaigning regulations, it is quite unlikely for bodies supervising the election to allow these complaints to affect the course of the campaigns. Meanwhile, Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf have taken to the media to challenge Rouhani with face-to-face debates. The Rouhani campaign has announced it is prepared for a debate. The two Principlist candidates, however, seem to prefer such debate(s) to be televised, which is definitely against the principle of equal opportunities for all candidates.

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