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Iran Presidential Candidates Face Off in First Debate

Presidential candidates attend three televised debates and their performance in the widely watched programs is seen as a reliable indicator of their final ranking
The six presidential candidates attend the first televised debate on April 28.  The six presidential candidates attend the first televised debate on April 28.

The six qualified candidates cleared to run for president by the election watchdog Guardians Council had their first live debate on Friday, warming up the race for the May 19 presidential poll.

The field of candidates is almost equally divided between President Hassan Rouhani and his backers, Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri and former industries and mines minister Mostafa Hashemitaba, and their conservative opponents, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, custodian of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH), Ebrahim Raeisi, and former culture minister, Mostafa Mirsalim.

The three-hour debate was focused on social issues, such as obstacles to marriage, youth unemployment, informal settlements, the rich-poor divide and housing.

Defending his four-year presidential record, Rouhani said employment generation requires a favorable business environment, which his administration has worked hard to create.

The president said his government has also exerted considerable efforts to attract foreign investment, as part of measures to revive a flagging economy hit by years of international sanctions.

Live televised debates, introduced in the runup to the 2009 presidential poll, are a must-see for many Iranians curious to know more about their would-be presidents.

Earlier this month, an announcement by the Interior Ministry, the election organizer, that the debates would be broadcast pre-recorded triggered widespread criticism by the public and candidates themselves, prompting a reversal of the decision.

The candidates' performance in these debates is a seen as a reliable indicator of their final ranking.

The next two electoral debates will be held on May 5 and May 12 on politics and economy respectively.

The campaign season started on April 21 and will last until 24 hours before the vote.

If no candidate garners more than 50% of the votes, a runoff will be held on May 26 between the two top vote-getters.

Electorates are estimated to be around 1.5 million more than the 50.5 million of the previous vote.

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