Reformist Leader Challenges Rivals to Debate

Reformist Leader Challenges Rivals to DebateReformist Leader Challenges Rivals to Debate

A leading reformist candidate for Friday's parliamentary vote challenged rival conservatives to electoral debates, in response to their move to question the qualifications of the hopefuls fielded in the joint list by a coalition of government-allied reformists and moderates.

"We are ready for an open debate with our rivals on our plans and past performance. We will not use rhetoric and will debate based on our performance, capabilities and potential," Mohammad Reza Aref was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The ruling by the Guardians Council, a clerical body that screens candidates, to deny a large number of heavyweight reformist candidates a place on the ballot, provided the grounds for the establishment of the coalition between the two blocs, both backing President Hassan Rouhani's government. The coalition, named the Alliance of Government Backers and Moderates, released a joint list of candidates last week to compete for the 30-seat share of the capital Tehran in the 290-member parliament. Addressing a campaign event in Tehran on Sunday, Aref said, "We favor peace in society and are encouraging a high voter turnout, while our rivals have been busy trying to undermine the list of reformists."

Addressing the conservative camp, Aref said, "Why are you mounting smear campaigns instead of trying to justify your own record? You have held the majority in the last three parliaments … Why do you not outline your performance to let the people make their own judgment?"

Reformists have publically backed Rouhani's policies and Aref withdrew his candidacy in favor of Rouhani during the 2013 presidential election.

"Rouhani's government has faced the most frequent impeachments and questions" by lawmakers, Aref who also heads the Reformist Policymaking Council said.

"[Conservatives] are now criticizing the government's record ... Consider the conditions of the government when Rouhani took office! He inherited a government burdened with a debt equivalent to 20 years' worth of national development budget," he said. "The government has achieved a %5.6 economic growth and a single digit jobless rate and reined in inflation."

Aref, who was also the first vice president under former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, added that addressing poverty, youth unemployment and the alarming rate of drug addiction top his camp's agenda.