Lincoln-Douglas debates, Iranian style
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against one of his three opponents, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Wednesday night in the second of six debates leading up to June 12 elections.
During 90 minutes of bruising debate, Iran's top two presidential candidates on Wednesday sought to denigrate each other's past records, and portray their opponent as dangerous for the future of the Islamic Republic.Skip to next paragraph
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Former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of causing instability in Iran with "adventurism, heroics, and extremism." The hard-line president had "undermined the dignity of our nation" with his caustic anti-West, anti-Israel and Holocaust-denying remarks, he added.
The result of the June 12 election – a four-way contest that could go to a second round – will shape Iran's foreign and domestic policy for years to come. Ahmadinejad has touted his steadfast support of Iran's nuclear program and launching a satellite earlier this year, but he has been hobbled by soaring inflation and an economy weakened by sanctions.
Iran's next president will mold the political climate, as the Islamic system – ultimately led by Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei – decides how far it will go in meeting President Barack Obama's overtures for dialogue.
A new electricity seems to have taken hold of the campaigns, as many reformists set aside years of disillusion with politics and say they will vote for Mousavi or moderate cleric Mehdi Karroubi. So the stakes are high, and the incumbent so polarizing a figure that he argued it was "three against one." And this first-ever use of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates in Iran has also fostered very personal attacks.
'Who endangered the regime?'
In Wednesday's nationally televised debate – the second of six, but the first one featuring Ahmadinejad – the president belittled the credentials of Mousavi's wife, who is dean of a university. Mousavi charged that hundreds of books could no longer be republished; Ahmadinejad countered that he censored less than his predecessors. Mousavi said Ahmadinejad's "method is leading to dictatorship."
The president complained that his record had been subject to unprecedented "lies and defamation," claimed that his administration had done the work of several, and that Iranians are now "among the most beloved people on the planet" because of his government's ethical stands.
Ahmadinejad said he had rescued Iran from the denigrations caused by the corruption and foolhardy policies of his predecessors. He asked about the wealth of two-term president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his sons, and the numbers of billionaires created during that time – and noted that his ministers were humble and pious.
He charged that reformist Mohamad Khatami's two terms had been ones of capitulation to the West on the nuclear file, during which Iran had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities and permit intrusive inspections.
Mr. Khatami had helped Washington during the war and making peace in Afghanistan in 2001, but was nevertheless branded by Mr. Bush part of the "axis of evil." By contrast, Ahmadinejad claimed, his own uncompromising stance meant that even Bush eventually gave up thoughts of regime change – and that now Mr. Obama was willing to talk.