09 Jun 2009 00:33
Tehran | 8 June 2009
Tonight marked the last televised debate between Iran's presidential candidates. In this last round, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against another conservative, his former commander-in-chief in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, Mohsen Rezaie. Although his chances are considered minimal, Rezaie's confidence gave him an air of authority the President lacked tonight.
Where as Rezaie came off presidential and professional, Ahmadinejad often came off quarrelsome and supercilious. Rezaie also had the aura of a commander who was trying to teach his former junior guardsman a lesson or two.
Rezaie attacked the President's economic performance, presenting charts and meticulously citing figures. In response to an earlier claim by Ahmadinejad that the inflation rate in Iran was 15 percent, Rezaie produced a printout of a document from the Web site of the Central Bank of Iran, which stated the inflation rate was 25 percent, not 15 as the President had claimed.
Ahmadinejad resorted to the argument that the entire global economy was suffering from high inflation. But Rezaie wasn't buying it. He started reading from a list, quoting the price of rice, eggs, meat and chicken in 2009, and comparing those figures to what they were four year ago, when Ahmadinejad first took office.
Rezaie also had another chart: the poverty index, which indicated that the standard of living had sharply declined during Ahmadinejad's term. "We should not use numbers to hide reality," said Rezaie, looking into the camera. "I ask the people -- you're the ones bearing the brunt of the current crisis: Is your life better today?"
The debate also revolved around politics and national security for a while, but each time the discussion reverted back to the economy, a topic in which Rezaie was far better versed. Speaking of unemployment, Rezaie said the government had changed the definition of what passed for employment to suit its purposes. According to the current government, anyone working more than two hours a week is considered employed. Rezaie turned to the camera again: "I ask the people, how many are unemployed in your families? Do your numbers match the unemployment figures offered by Mr. Ahmadinejad?"
At the end of the debate, the President tried to get in the last word -- but in that, he failed too. Rezaie wrapped up by pointing out the flaws in the President's management style. Even though his time was more limited than his opponent, he came out ahead of Ahmadinejad, as well as his other two rivals.
As a young student, Mohsen Rezaie joined a guerrilla group in southwest Iran to fight the Shah. After the revolution a coalition of similar groups and other young revolutionaries formed the IRGC to defend and safeguard the Islamic revolution.
Rezaie commanded the IRGC during the eight-year war with Iraq. Even though they were battling a far better equipped and trained army, his troops bravely held their ground. After the war, when the IRGC adopted the ranking system of a classic army, he became a major general.
These days Rezaei studies economics at the University of Tehran, from where he received a doctorate. After retiring from active command he liked to be referred to as "Dr. Rezaie," not "General Rezaie." He continued to work on economic issues and policies, with an eye on the presidency. He was going to run in 2005 but withdrew. Today he seems to be in it for the long haul.
Though conservative in his political convictions, he exercises moderation and fuses economic principles with his politics. Tonight he brought an economist's expertise and a commander's self confidence to the presidential debate, a combination that proved lethal for Ahmadinejad.
Dr. Rezaei entered the debate as a long shot and finished a national figure. In politics that is a victory, an important one. Though he may lose this race, his star appears to be on the rise.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau