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Iran presidential candidates faced off in final live TV debate

The six candidates contesting Iran's 12th presidential election faced off in their third and final live televised debate.

During the debate on Friday, the contestants elaborated on their economic plans and agendas as they campaign for the May vote.

The first televised debate saw the aspirants sparring and addressing sundry issues. The second one was much more heated, with candidates aiming directly for each other's past and present performances.

The debate gathered incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, member of Iran's Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi, the current custodian of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH) in the northeastern city of Mashhad and former vice president Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.

Iranians will go to the polls on May 19 to elect the country's next president.

Upon entering the headquarters of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the venue of the debate, Qalibaf said the implementation of any economic plan will affect the interests of the "four-percent" minority, a term he has been using throughout his campaigning to refer to the unfair distribution of wealth and opportunities in the country. He also expressed hope that candidates would focus on economic issues in the debate and not digress from the issue at hand.

In an interview prior to his participation in the debate, Aqa-Mirsalim said the economic debate would be more important than the two previous televised clashes due to the fact that the major problem of Iranians concerns economic woes, adding that the issue is more acute for the youths.

As he showed up for the debate, Raeisi said in the debates, the Iranians want to learns two things; one is the performance of the incumbent administration and the other is the candidates' agendas. He, too, stressed that the main concern of the people is economic issues. He cited the closure of factories, the impoverished people, workers, villagers and those involved in the production sector as some of the areas of concern.

Also speaking prior to partaking in the debate, Rouhani said Iranian people expect that the candidates set out their backgrounds in economic issues and explain what they have done. He added that the hopefuls must also lay out the resources that they have in mind for the implementation of their economic agendas, how they plan to fund them and how much inflation would be caused.

Smuggling and imports

And the debate begins in earnest with Jahangiri drawn first to answer a question about his plans to fight smuggling and reduce imports. He said the smuggling of commodities undermines domestic production and diverts the course of economy from the right course. He added that the oversight in dealing with the smuggling of goods has dealt severe blows to the country's economy.

Presidential candidates took turns to express their views on Jahangiri's remarks with Raeisi saying that the backbone of his anti-smuggling plan is based on extensive research conducted in universities. He added that the 11th administration was not serious in dealing with the smuggling of goods. Hashemi-Taba said that 114 official docks have been used to smuggle goods into country.

Qalibaf said prevention is the first step in fighting goods smuggling and added that some cabinet ministers are engaged in illegal import of commodities to the country. Rouhani said the first concern with regard to the smuggling is its root causes. He added that the private sector's economic activities must be encouraged to reduce smuggling and emphasized that border villages must start producing and exporting goods in order to curb smuggling.

Jahangiri retook the podium to answer the candidates' questions and said the judiciary has appeared weak in fighting the smuggling of goods. He added that the current administration has taken serious measures to stop astronomical salaries. The Iranian first vice president said Tehran Municipality has not come clean on the selling of underpriced properties to certain people.

Oil dependence

Aqa-Mirsalim, the second hopeful taking to the podium, was asked to outline his approaches to boosting exports and reducing the country's dependence on oil. He said he plans to reduce crude oil sales in favor of exporting domestic products. He added that the sales of crude oil have made the country more dependent on other countries and added that exports must be encouraged to make up for expensive production inside the country.

The presidential contestants took turns to express their views on Aqa-Mirsalim's remarks with Rouhani saying that his administration has managed to open Iran's export markets through the signing and implementation of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He added that if the country does not exploit shared energy fields, the neighboring states will extract their oil reserves. Jahangiri said the 11th administration has considerably reduced the export of raw materials. Raeisi said the building of refineries in various provinces would reduce crude oil sales and criticized that no measure has been carried out in this regard. He added that there is currently no serious will to fight the smuggling of goods in the country. Hashemi-Taba said export-oriented domestic production would help reduce the smuggling of goods. Qalibaf said people with vested interest in smuggling have prevented solving the problem.

Aqa-Mirsalim retook the podium to respond to the candidates' questions, saying Iran must work with its neighboring countries to safeguard shared energy fields. He added that the administration of President Rouhani has failed to use the JCPOA to boost Iran's foreign trade. He stressed the importance of the access to modern technology in order to improve exports.

Banking issues

Rouhani, the third candidate at the podium, used his four-minute time to express his plans to solve the problems in the country's banking system. He said Iran's banking system needs fundamental reforms. The incumbent president added that his administration has managed to double the capital of state-run banks to get more active in the economic sector.

The presidential candidates took turns to express their views on Rouhani's remarks with Jahangiri saying the previous administration had brought about the depletion of bank resources. He added that the 11th administration is implementing the development plan for banks to help them become active in production. Raeisi said the 11th administration blames its predecessor for all of the problems. Raeisi added that the current administration has left the country in limbo for four years. Hashemi-Taba said the banking problems were handed down to the 11th administration by its predecessor. Qalibaf said the administration of President Rouhani has failed in properly supervising and managing banks and added that liquidity has tripled under the present administration. Aqa-Mirsalim said the banking system is currently based on usury, adding that the 11th administration is required to be more serious in dealing with the banking problems.

Rouhani retook to the podium to use his five-minute time to answer the debate question. He asked why the judiciary has not dealt with financial problems caused by the previous administration. The incumbent president said his administration has greatly reduced bank arrears and put banks back to the right course.

Domestic production

Hashemi-Taba, the fourth candidate taking to the podium, answered a debate question about his plans for prosperity of domestic production. He said the modernization of the agriculture sector should be the first step for bringing prosperity to domestic production. He said the export-oriented production, investment attraction and bank reforms are other needed steps in this regard and added that domestic capital must be used to promote Iran's exports.

The presidential hopefuls took turn to express their views about Hashemi-Taba's comments with Qalibaf saying the current production problems are rooted in the mismanagement of the country's affairs. Aqa-Mirsalim said many production problems are a result of the administration's inattention to the economic recession. Rouhani said production prosperity needs further investment and a proper use of technology. Jahangiri said the private sector is the key to production and investment in the country and added that the 11th administration has succeeded in bringing stability back to the Iranian economy. Raeisi said 250,000 businesses shut down under the current administration.

Hashemi-Taba retook to the podium to use his five-minute time to give responses to the candidates' question, saying the country's industry will fail if it is not export-oriented. He added that many businesses shut down due to the worn-out technology used in them. He said some media outlets undermine any step taken to attract foreign investment.

Subsidies

As the fifth candidate taking to the podium, Raeisi explained his plans for the implementation of the subsidies law. He said the 11th administration's policies have led to increasing poverty inside the country and added that subsidies handed out to lower deciles must increase.

The presidential contenders took turns to express their views on Raeisi's remarks with Hashemi-Taba, saying the incumbent administration has been successful in containing inflation. Qalibaf said entrepreneurs were under tremendous pressure as a result of the country's economic problems. Aqa-Mirsalim said domestic production has been damaged over the past four years. Rouhani said some people are willing to revive methods used by the previous administration and urged the continuation of cash handouts and the implementation of social security plan. Jahangiri said the existing problems are a result of wrong policies adopted by the previous administration and added that increasing cash handouts would destroy the country's economy.

Raeisi retook to the podium to answer the candidates' questions in five minutes. He expressed his readiness to hold a one-on-one debate with Rouhani on his wrong policies.

Economic growth

Last but not least, Qalibaf took to the podium to answer a question in four minutes about his plans for boosting the country's economic growth. He said Iran is facing full-fledged economic crisis and added that President Rouhani's administration has not been successful in solving the country's economic crisis. The mayor of Tehran said tax evasion in Iran amounts to 40 percent, adding that the creation of job opportunities is the most important step for boosting the economic growth.

The presidential hopefuls took turns to express their views on Qalibaf's remarks with Aqa-Mirsalim saying the 11th administration has failed to observe the principles of Economy of Resistance. Rouhani said Qalibaf must explain his plans for achieving 26 percent economic growth rate. Jahangiri said the candidates must explain if they are capable of attracting foreign investment. Raeisi said oil accounts for the lion's share of national seven percent economic growth rate. Hashemi-Taba also made comments on Qalibaf's comments.

The mayor of Tehran retook to the podium to answer the debate questions, vowing that his administration will certainly create five million jobs, including 1.5 million jobs for rural districts, if elected. Qalibaf said prosperity of the housing sector and tourism are among his main plans and added that it is possible to increase the country's revenue 2.5 times.

With all the six candidates having taken to the podium, the moderator announced the end of the first section of the debate and called a 15-minute break before the beginning of the second round.

Round II

In the second section, each candidate was given two minutes to answer a question raised by the moderator. Draws determined the candidate and the question posed to him. Qalibaf, going first, explained his plans to boost productivity in the agriculture sector and said Iran must become self-sufficient in the production of vital agricultural products. He added that fighting corruption is a prerequisite for success in becoming self-sufficient. As per the draw, Raeisi next responded to a question about his plans to fight economic corruption and said corrupt structures must be addressed by administration officials. He urged due sensitivity to handle the corruption cases. Hashemi-Taba was asked about his plans to reform the taxation system and said the presidential candidates must clarify the sources used to fund their campaigns. He added that the tax revenues must be made transparent through a comprehensive tax system. Rouhani, for his part, responded to a question about his plans to stop the growth of liquidity. Jahangiri answered a question about his plans to promote auto industry's quality. Aqa-Mirsalim, the last candidate speaking in this part, explained his plans to help the growth of science-based businesses.

In the final segment of the debate, the six candidates offered their concluding remarks which was mainly a summary of their previous comments.

Source: Al Alam

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