Economy in focus as debates heat up in Iran’s presidential race

Xinhua | Hassan Rouhvand: With the polling day less than three days away, election campaigns for the presidential race on Tehran’s streets are going into full swing focusing on economy.

Presidential hopefuls held their third and last live TV debates on economy recently which resulted in the release of greater amount of energy from the undecided strata of the society.

Accordingly, street debates were shaped up as the extension of TV debates of the presidential hopefuls.

On the Vali Asr crossing, in front of the city’s memorable Theater Hall in central Tehran, everybody comes and goes, talking of “how it’ll pose.”

We let our way through certain restless crowd only to find out that the passionate arguments are craving the core issue in the current presidential narrative of Iran’s political stage.

“Economy talks loud. When there is a hardship in my life, when I cannot afford buying a kilo of greengage for my children, what is the use of international diplomacy?” groaned a middle-age man with a deep sigh.

“I am the father of three children, all in their teens. I have had to leave my hometown to work here with my motorbike, from dawn to dusk, as a deliverer of food to earn living, “he said as the reflection of sharp glimmer of lamps on the sidewalk glowed the pupil of his eyes in the faint twilight of Tuesday evening.

“I live in the southern district of Tehran, and what I earn is spent on the rent, utilities, unexpected incidents of life, and a small portion on the daily costs of my family. We expected the government to help solve these problems, but to our regret …,” his solo speech was disrupted by an uproar of cheering crowd who were holding the posters of a conservative presidential hopeful.

“Well done Rahim, well done,” a sound from among the crowd resonated across the pavement.

“No, it is not fair. No it is not the truth,” a young man intervened, announcing that “Where have you witnessed the rise of prices of commodities, on the weekly basis, during Rouhani’s rule? My father says, six or seven years ago, every night they went to bed anticipating the change in prices the next morning.”

Besides, the healthcare plan of the government has been a successful project to help the poor. Now, your share of the medical costs from the social security insurance is very low, roughly below the 10 percent, but it was over 60 percent before Rouhnai, said Milad, 24, a university student whose name was revealed to Xinhua by another young boy standing next to him.

Milad acknowledged that there is still unemployment issue persisting in the country, but added that “the reelection of Rouhani will further help the improvement of economy of people’s life.”

A woman, who seemed to be impatient for her turn to come, rushed onto the stage to articulate her inner thoughts, making a pitch for resolution: “We will vote for someone who knows what job means for a full-grown boy ashamed when he receives allowance from her mother who is the only breadwinner for her family.”

“We will support the one who will be able to fight unemployment, high costs, inflation and will pledge happy life for our children,” she introduced herself as Samaneh Momeni, the 48-year-old nurse, to Xinhua.

In the TV debates, two of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani’s conservative rivals criticized him for what they called his administration’s failure in recovering the economy and taking full advantage of the global climate in the aftermath of Iranian nuclear deal with the six major powers reached and implemented in 2015.

The claims were rejected by Rouhani defending his economic “achievements,” including the curb of inflation to a greater extent, economic growth as well as opening the country up for international economic cooperation.

The nuclear deal has put Iran on the path of sanctions relief but with more strict limits on nuclear program.

A further journey, to explore more about the political landscape of Tehran on the campaign days, took Xinhua reporters to the south and north of Tehran on Wednesday. The experience also revealed the significance behind the concept of “economy” prevailing the city’s political spectacle.

In the Shar-e-Ray district to the south, we encounter a 55-year-old vendor, Nasorllah Hemmati, who sells an assortment of fruits on his carriage.

Nasorllah is busy brushing red apples with his clean cloth as he greets Xinhua report group.

When he is asked about how the work is going, he turns to the translator and said “This has been my job for life. I dreamed to buy a shop and make it better, but it has not been so easy.”

To the question of how he expects the Friday election could help his life, Nasorllah reluctantly replies “The poor and their living condition have seemingly been a level for the politicians to jump to power. I will vote this time, no problem, but there is a slim hope that the one who is elected would address our concerns.”

“Anyway, I should be thankful to God and loyal to my duty. I have tried not to be ashamed before my wife and children when I return home after the laborious daily work,” he redirects his look back to his wealth on the carriage and asks us to buy some of his fruits. “Plum? Banana?” he inquires.

On Shariati street to the north of Sadr high way in the affluent district of the city, a sale clerk in a large bakery seems to be relatively satisfied with the business in which her coworkers and she herself are involved.

“In the past, we would mostly receive rich people here, but our sales have improved over the past year and we have more demands from different groups of people for the pastries, pizzas, tortillas, cakes, etc,” the 28-year-old Nastaran told Xinhua.

“We hope the market could improve further in the future,” she said, expressing optimism that her husband and she would be able to buy a small apartment with the “sizeable” loan that the Housing Bank provides for those who want to buy their first-ever home.

Also, the owner of a home appliance store in the same district, who wanted to be called by his surname, Mr. Rahbar, said that the business has much improved following the lift of sanctions against the country.

If the upcoming government supports the domestic economy and private sector, it would be even better, Rahbar, 56, announced, stressing that as one of the candidates indicated in the debate “our economy should be translated into the export-oriented’ economy. This is the only way for us to develop faster.”

The controversies and debates are going on in the city space, outdoors and indoors, as the people are preparing for the vote on the decisive Friday.

On April 21, out of 1,636 registered candidates, six were qualified, including three principalists, or conservatives as they are commonly referred to, two centrists and one reformist, to compete for a four-year term as the president.

On Monday, however, Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a conservative candidate said in a statement that he decides to withdraw from the presidential race to back another candidate Ebrahim Raisi, who is also a conservative nominee.

Besides, Iran’s first Vice President and presidential election candidate Eshaq Jahangiri announced on Tuesday to withdraw from the presidential race in order to back President Rouhani.

For May 19 vote, the centrists, led by the Rouhani, are hoping not to lose their current sovereignty.

If no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff will be held on May 26 between the two top vote-getters. More than 56 million people are eligible to cast their votes in the ballot boxes.