June 18, 2021
Mehr-Alizadeh Heckled at Polling Station
Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh, the Reformist candidate who resigned on Wednesday, arrived at the Jamaran Hosseiniyeh (where Ayatollah Khomeini once lived and taught) in the northern part of Tehran to vote at 11:30am. His visit was marred by heckling at the polling station, with several people reportedly shouting “marg bar zed-e velayat-e faqih [death to the opponents of the Guardianship of Jurists]” at the candidate. The Guardianship of the Jurists is the official system of government in Iran where clerics have juridical and political oversight over government, and the chant is popular among devoted supporters of the Supreme Leader. The chant indicates the hostility of hard-line conservatives who see Reformists as subversive.
June 16, 2021
Reformist candidate Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh has sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior announcing that he is withdrawing from the election. Although he did not mention any other candidates in his resignation letter, Abdol-Naser Hemmati thanked Mehr-Alizadeh for his resignation as did former President Mohammad Khatami, who then encouraged Reformists to vote for Hemmati.
June 15, 2021
Supreme Leader’s Brother Tells Hemmati and Mehr -Alizadeh to be Allies
Hadi Khamenei, brother of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published an open letter to Abdol-Naser Hemmati and Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh, addressing them as “Reformists” and telling them form a coalition. Khamenei wrote to the two candidates that “your efforts in defence of the Republic and of reform for the transformation of the Iranian people are commendable… I ask you to form an alliance with each other and unite with the presence of one of the two of you in the race”. Khamenei said that Hemmati and Mehr-Alizadeh would set a good example to the people of Iran by doing so in service of their country.
June 13, 2021
Mehr-Alizadeh Visits Tabriz
Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh made a visit to Tabriz today, the capital of the historic region of Iranian Azerbaijan, in order to appeal to his Azeri-speaking supporter base. He encouraged “the people of Azerbaijan” to vote, appealing to their history of action during the 1906 Constitutional and 1979 Islamic Revolutions. Mehr-Alizadeh advocated for increased use of the Azeri language in accordance with the Constitution and dealing with the drying up of Lake Urmia, two of the largest political issues in Iranian Azerbaijan. Mehr-Alizadeh’s trip to Tabriz was criticised by his opponents, who said that the event was poorly attended.
June 12, 2021
Summary of the Third Debate
The Third Debate was more focused than the previous two, with most of the candidates seeking to be less antagonistic towards each other and more focused on explaining their policies and pointing out the shortcomings of their rivals’ policies At the beginning of the debate, the moderator announced that the seven most important issues nominated by the general public for this debate were housing, employment, unemployment, inflation, justice, subsidies and corruption. Interestingly, neither sanctions nor COVID were raised as top issues by the general public. The debate focused mainly, therefore, on economic issues, particularly inflation, as well as accountability and internet filtering.
Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who has become a viable candidate in some polls, pointed to his relative youth (as opposed to most of the other candidates) and said that he represented generational change. He said “Dear people of Iran, to entrust the management and solving of today's problems to the very people who created the current situation is like entrusting the treatment of malaria to mosquitoes or the treatment of COVID to the virus itself”.
Ebrahim Raisi seemed much more prepared than in previous debates, and used his non-executive experience to his advantage, pointing to his involvement in building local business while head of the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and emphasising his role in fighting crime and corruption while Chief Justice. Raisi was much more coherent and articulate when taking on his main challenger, former Central Bank governor Abdol-Naser Hemmati, by centring his narrative on the slogan that “banks are a barrier to production”.
After Raisi said that “bank arrears must be repaid”, Hemmati produced a handwritten list of 13 names of those in arrears, to which Raisi said “We had previously published the names of the bank debtors given by Mr Hemmati. If Mr Hemmati had the list of bank super-debtors, why hadn't he handed it over to the judiciary so far? Why did they bring it to us in the debate?” Hemmati responded that the names had been provided to the judiciary and accused them of not acting swiftly before trying to break Raisi’s image of a strong judicial manager by saying “Mr Raisi, the economy is not like a court and a judge”.
Mohsen Rezaei did not perform particularly well, but centred his speeches on imager of Iran needing two major surgeries: for its governance and its economy. When asked how he would fund his centrepiece policy of a monthly 450 thousand toman subsidy, he stumbled, saying “don’t worry where I get the money from, as long as there is not theft, it’s not a problem”
Saeed Jalili asked more rhetorical questions than he gave rhetorical answers, but he developed his narrative around having the most extensive planning, saying “Iran needs a plan - if you want to weave an Iranian rug, you need a comprehensive plan to weave it row by row, knot by knot”.
Abdol-Naser Hemmati placed the responsibilities of Iran’s economic failures on the behaviour of hardliners, who had caused the sanctions which now cost the economy 16 billion annually. In differentiating himself from Raisi, Hemmati said “tell me, what will happen if power falls into the hands of the extremists? I can easily say that more sanctions will be imposed”.
Hemmati also accused the hardliners (meaning all other candidates except for Mehr-Alizadeh) of turning Iran’s neighbours into enemies, naming Saudi Arabia and UAE specifically, of creating alliances that brought no economic benefit to Iran, specifically naming Iraq and China, and sabotaging agreements that benefit Iran, specifically the FATF and JCPOA.
Jalili had said “the signing of conventions, including the FATF, is of no benefit to the country” to which Hemmati retorted “Mr Jalili and North Korea are the only ones saying that the FATF is useless. Does that mean 200 other countries do not understand this? Let the country breathe!”. Raisi said he was supportive of the JCPOA, although the agreement would be better under a “strong government”, a reference to his slogan “a people’s government for a strong Iran”.
Ali-Reza Zakani focused his speeches on what he called the three “n”s of Iran’s failures: not knowing, not wanting, not being able. Zakani also produced a letter which supposedly showed Hemmati as a key supporter of the petrol price rise of 2019, which led to protests which were violently suppressed, which ran contrary to Hemmati’s own claims of opposition to the price rise. Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh took a similar road to Hemmati, saying the problems that Iran faces stem from the fact that everything is politicised: “our economy and our livelihoods suffer because of politicisation”
Mehr-Alizadeh also continued to lobby on ethnic issues, which had been a feature of the second debate in particular, arguing that local languages should be permitted for use in regional universities and the press, posing the question “is there equality between ethnic groups in Iran?” Other candidates avoided the issue, although Rezaei said that his plan for Iran’s development was all inclusive and Ghazizadeh blamed a rise in ethnic dissatisfaction on the decline of family. Mehr-Alizadeh criticised treatment of Sunnis in Iran, particularly the ban on Sunni seminaries and Sunni mosques in places like Tehran. As soon as the debate finished, the most senior Sunni leader in Iran, Molavi Abdol-Hamid, announced his support for Raisi.
Internet filtering became a means of discussing social issues, with Hemmati criticising Raisi’s mention of “safe filtering” saying that “safe filtering means closing Instagram”. Hemmati also tried to bring the discussion of women’s rights on to the agenda in a roundabout way, since it was clear the candidates may have been warned after the last debate. Hemmati asked Raisi if he agreed with the Friday Imam of Mashhad, Ahmad Alam-ol-Hoda (who is also Raisi’s father-in-law), and his views on women. Alam-ol-Hoda’s Instagram account was recently suspended. Raisi said he had not introduced any new filtering while Chief Justice. While Zakani said “Mr Hemmati, why are you talking about filtering? You closed your Instagram comments until yesterday. You do not dare to talk to people”.
June 9, 2021
Mehr-Alizadeh in Fake Doctorate Scandal
FarsNews accused Reformist candidate Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh of lying about having a doctorate in economic engineering from Tilberg University in the Netherlands. A spokesman for Mehr-Alizadeh said that the candidate does have a doctorate and will supply the testamur soon but seemed to confirm it was not from a Dutch institution but rather an Iranian university. There have been periodic scandals of politicians with fake European and North American qualifications over the past two decades. This scandal comes amidst Mehr-Alizadeh’s claims about Ebrahim Raisi’s lack of education, and a concerted campaign by pro-Raisi press (Fars is linked to the IRGC) to discredit the frontrunner’s opponents.
June 9, 2021
Tehran Police Chief Responds to Debates
Hossein Rahimi, commander of the Greater Tehran police, criticised candidates for statements they made in the second debate regarding the Guidance Patrol, a morality police who enforce the hijab in public. Rahimi said “it is not possible to play with the Islamic and moral values of the society”, and these issues should not be exploited to collect votes. During the debate, Ebrahim Raisi promised to create a Guidance Patrol to police economic managers, and both Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh and Ali-Reza Zakani weighed into a discussion about the enforcement of hijab in public.
June 8, 2021
Summary of the Second Candidates Debate
The second candidates debate took place on Tuesday afternoon.
Much of the debate centred on the economic plans of the candidates, as well as COVID and issues affecting women, youth and ethnic minorities. There was also some discussion about cultural and social restrictions in Iran. The candidates did not spend as much time hurling and responding to accusations about each other. However, again there was a notable absence of foreign policy issues, largely because, it is believed, the Supreme Leader declared these issues to be off limits in the election campaign.
Ebrahim Raisi lamented that “People’s trust in the government has reached the lowest level”.
Mohsen Rezaei declared the country to be in a worse situation than during the Iran-Iraq War, but promised that 1400 (2021) is the year of opening.
Saeed Jalili promised “this is not a debate, this is an intelligence test”.
Abdol-Nasser Hemmati said of the election that “it is not a choice between bad and worse, it is a choice between those who close doors and those who open doors”.
Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi congratulated the national football and volleyball teams on their recent victories, and emphasised the non-factional, universal nature of his planned “salaam” government.
Ali-Reza Zakani said that the next administration must help Iranians increase the birth-rate and housing affordability, saying that 58% of Tehranis’ income goes toward housing.
Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh called for the introduction of a minimum wage.
The debate included accusations between candidates, although not as much as the first debate. Jalili reiterated a point he has made throughout the campaign, that if showmanship takes the place of real work in politics, then the country cannot move forward. Mehr-Alizadeh reiterated his criticism of Raisi’s education, that the Chief Justice had only six classes of proper education. Raisi responded “my degree is not equivalent to what Mr Mehr-Alizadeh says; I have a seminary degree and a university degree”. Ghazizadeh came to Raisi’s defence, saying that Iran has “many great scientists among Islamic scholars, including in economics, and I myself have learnt from the clergy in many matters”.
Mohsen Rezaei talked about how he had become an internet meme, saying that “jokes about me are my capital”, seemingly following Hemmati’s philosophy that all publicity is good publicity.
A few candidates used Rouhani’s failures to attack Hemmati, with Jalili saying “they say we agreed to lift the sanctions, but the sanctions were not lifted”, referring to a statement by President Rouhani in early May. Zakani added “the representative of the Rouhani government here (Hemmati) is not willing to debate” before playing on “hope”, the slogan of the Rouhani campaign in 2013, saying that “this government has left no hope”. Zakani, who resents the term cover candidate used to describe him and others who are believed to be willing to stand aside to Raisi, returned to this topic in the second half of the debate, saying “Mr Hemmati, if I am a cover candidate, you are a cover candidate – come and cover the 8 years of disaster that you caused the people”. Raisi explicitly said that “Mr Hemmati must be held accountable during his tenure at the Central Bank” to which Hemmati hit back with “you have been in the judiciary for 40 years, should you be held accountable for all the sabotage in the judiciary? Now you tell me I have to answer for just eight years?”
COVID was an important issue of debate, with Hemmati said the next administration will fully vaccinate the country. Mehr-Alizadeh said he would vaccinate the country within three months.
The politics of ethno-linguistic minorities were present in this debate. In the first debate, Mehr-Alizadeh and Hemmati both spoke in Azeri, appealing to the large number of voters of Azeri origin. This time two candidates without Azeri background, Raisi and Rezaei, tried to appeal to the same voters. Raisi said confidentially that “the Turkish (Azeri) regions love me very much” while Rezaei embarrassingly and incorrectly tried to say “long live Azerbaijan” in Azeri.
On the future of the youth, Ghazizadeh expressed his dismay at the continual brain drain in Iran, and called for education reform, saying that “our youth spend five years of their lives in a room preparing for the concours (university entrance exam)”.
Issues affecting women also figured in the debate. Hemmati promised that he would have five women in his cabinet, and each of these women would be seriously involved in decision making. Ghazizadeh said that “instead of one, two or five people, I will dedicate the whole cabinet to women” before saying that he believed in meritocracy. Rezaei promised free internet to women head of households so that they could be involved in the online economy, before promising to lift restrictions on women athletes, such as in attending gyms. Mehr-Alizadeh spoke on the issue of the hijab, saying “if a girl’s hair is a hair out, we should not send her a message of terror”. Raisi promised guidance patrols (like morality police), but for economic managers, while Zakani said that people’s privacy was a red line that must be respected.
This discussion tied to issues of cultural and social restrictions in Iran. Rezaei said that the Council of the Cultural Revolution “is no longer efficient; I ask the Supreme Leader to dissolve it”. Rezaei quoted the lyrics of the song “We Hope for Joy” by Shahin Najafi, a rapper living abroad, saying “our youth have hope”. Hemmati responded with “they rap their music, but ban rap music”.
June 8, 2021
Mehr-Alizadeh is Reform Front Candidate
The Reform Front today endorsed Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh as their candidate in this election. The Reform Front had held meetings with both Mehr-Alizadeh and Abdol-Naser Hemmati, and decided to support Mehr-Alizadeh as he is a Reformist, while Hemmati has expressed a greater desire to run as an independent. The Reform Front had endorsed 14 candidates before the election, but none were approved to run in the campaign.
June 7, 2021
IRIB Grants Raisi Extra Rebuttal Time, Hemmati Protests
A representative for Ebrahim Raisi wrote to the Election Campaign section of the IRIB, the national broadcaster, asking for addition airtime for Raisi to respond to statements made by Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh and Abdol-Naser Hemmati. The IRIB responded, granting Raisi an additional five minutes in the second debate. Hemmati tweeted in outrage, saying that if Raisi is granted five extra minutes to respond to slander, then he deserves at least 20 extra minutes to respond to false accusations from the “cover candidates”, meaning the five candidates other than Raisi.