Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ahmadinejad-Karrubi Debate

At Press TV, Farhod Family is doing some great street-level election blogging from Tehran. His most recent post covers the debate between President Mahmood Ahmadinejad and former Majlis speaker Mehdi Karroubi. Karrubi's role in this election is different than it was in 2005. Then, he was the moderate reformist, dismissive of the student movement and to the right of Mustafa Mo'in, who ate those votes. (He also distributed lots of IOU's which could be cashed in if he won.) This time around, however, he's embracing and receiving support from the more radical wings of the reform movement who see him as having been more effective than Khatami earlier this decade, as well as trying to cut into Ahmadinejad's populist base by promising to distribute oil wealth directly to Iranians rather than the investment programs supported by Mousavi and Rezai.

Reading through Family's account of the debate, however, I'm not sure he turned in a strong performance:
"What the president did to counter those attacks caught me, and probably the majority of viewers off guard; he pulled out colored graphs showing economic statistics in various charts...

"He went on to note that Iran witnessed its largest per capita income gap between 1981 and 1984 and it's lowest ever under the present government. He added that Iran currently had an inflation rate of 16.55%, which is lower than the levels of 17.3%, 17.58% and 18.9% in the preceding administrations. On the surface, this is all well and good, but he gave no other background information in his presentation to back up the numbers that he presented.

"While presenting his graphs he did two things, try and portray the previous administrations negatively, and show the accomplishments of the current government. Mehdi Karroubi dismissed the data, saying people did not care about the science of economics, and that the real evidence was the reality of people's daily lives becoming increasingly difficult."

Iranians respect education, so I doubt Karrubi's reply was effective. From Family's account, he seems to have been caught oddly flat-footed on the crucial matter of economic management. Then he tried this:
"Mr. Karroubi was not going to let the president be the only one with props to show the audience, and he began to sort through the piles of papers he had around him, and found a photograph he wanted to present to the president and audience. I felt like I was watching one of those cheesy criminal justice/court drama's on TV.

"It was a photograph of the president sitting at a Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, under a sign that said Arab Gulf countries, instead of 'Persian Gulf'. He asked rhetorically, if this was the foreign policy the president wanted."

While Iranian nationalism is important, I don't think lots of people are likely to get upset because Ahmadinejad consorted with Arabs who say "Arabian Gulf," which is what this "charge" boils down to. Yes, it's one of those silly issues that can get heated, but will this incarnation of it switch votes?

Finally, Karrubi may have gotten tarred with a corruption issue:
"The president accused the former speaker of parliament of having received a large amount of money from one of the country's most notorious swindlers, who is currently serving a jail sentence, Sharam Jazayeri. Mr. Karroubi looked irritated by the president's comments, but had to mention that he did indeed receive the money, which was over three hundred thousand dollars.

"'Jazayeri gave me the money but did not ask for anything in return ever,' Mr. Karroubi said, explaining that he could spend the money however he saw fit."

Aside from foreign policy, where his critique echoed Mousavi's, I don't see where Karrubi landed many blows here, and probably didn't convince many who weren't already in his camp. Those who want to vote for a Reformist also may conclude that Karrubi got rolled, and not trust him if Ahmadinejad and a reformist square off in a second round. The Mousavi-Karrubi debate is yet to come, but from the coverage, it sounds like Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are the clear top two, and Karrubi isn't doing much to change that.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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