Issues Debated: Iran's 2024 Presidential Election

In five nationally televised debates, Iran’s six presidential candidates sparred over foreign policy, the economic crisis and U.S. sanctions, personal freedoms, corruption and government efficiency. The debates, in a stunningly short campaign period between June 11 and 28, occasionally got feisty as the five hardliners and one moderate attacked the policies of the previous presidents, notably Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who died in a helicopter accident in May 19, and Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who brokered the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015. The election is critical in charting the future of the Islamic republic amid the looming transition upon the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was aged and ailing. 

The gap between candidates was particularly glaring over the issue of women’s rights, which particularly resonated because of the nationwide protests over personal freedoms that erupted in 2022 following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested for improper hijab, or headscarf. The protests lasted for more than four months. In a brutal crackdown, more than 500 died and thousands were arrested. In an ongoing challenge to the regime, many women openly defied the law and removed or pushed back their scarves. 

In the third debate, candidate Masoud Pezeshkian, the lone moderate, openly advocated for equal rights for women. “There is no difference between men and women in ideological terms. Our women can occupy the same positions as our men.” He also decried the use of force against women and other protesters. “We are against any coercion or harsh treatment towards anyone, let alone women. Behavior won’t change with laws. Just as they couldn’t forcibly remove hijab from Iranian women before, we will not be able to impose hijab on them forcefully.” 

Masoud Pezeshkian

In contrast, Saeed Jalili, the most hardline candidate who polled well in the run-up to the June 28 election, took a rigid position on the role of women in Iranian society. “Hijab is the dress code of women’s social presence to preserve and strengthen the sanctity of the family,” he said. “Let’s look at the role of housewives. Why isn’t their role recognized? Through proper upbringing of children and creating a safe environment within the family, they contribute to raising youth who are agents of progress in society.”

Other conservatives also backed the enforcement of modest Islamic dress. Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf told voters, “Poor dress and lack of hijab are harmful to the family and society, and we should not allow this to happen.” Pezeshkian, Jalili and Qalibaf were considered the three leading candidates going into the poll. 

Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Qalibaf, Pezeshkian, Jalili, Zakani, and Pourmohamaddi

The six approved candidates were: Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a hardliner who served in parliament between 2008 and 2021 and was appointed vice president in 2021. Saeed Jalili, a hardliner  and former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator between 2007 and 2013. Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist who has been a member of parliament from East Azerbaijan since 2008. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a cleric and traditional conservative who served as justice minister, between 2013 and 2017, and was interior minister between 2005 and 2008. Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a mainstream conservative who has been speaker of parliament since 2020 and served as mayor of Tehran from 2005 and 2017. And Alireza Zakani, a hardliner who was elected mayor of Tehran in 2021 and was a member of parliament between 2004 and 2016 and again between 2020 and 2021. The following are comments and quotes on 10 issues from the five debates. 

On the economy

Pezeshkian: “The country is not to be run through conflict and disputes. I support social justice, not populist slogans. I will place the government's treasury in a completely transparent place.”

“If management is improved, cost issues will also be improved.”

“Economic issues won't be solved with slogans. It can be done only with expert work and using the experience of the world. Brains are fleeing and funds are also fleeing.” (June 17, 2024)

“Currently, our highest rate of unemployment is among university graduates. This is due to our lack of precise policymaking in line with societal needs.” (June 20, 2024)

Jalili: “There must be serious financial discipline in the country's economy. Everyone should be involved in the effort, not just those benefiting from privileges.”

“If management is improved, cost issues will also be improved. We are providing money, but we don't pay attention to results. Why should we entrust management (of government) to those who incur losses?”

“Our villages have the capacity to contribute to the country's growth. People (in villages) should trust and invest in the capital market. We have 40,000 villages with more than 20 households, each of which can be a cell for a leap forward.” (June 17, 2024)

Qalibaf: “The government's involvement in the economy should be minimized. People are the foundation of economic transformation. Scientists and elites can create change, and the government must allow them to make decisions for it. In the government of ‘service and progress,’ we need to create a protective shield for at least five income categories of society, which includes household goods, livelihood, and essential goods. With this shield, we must prevent damage until inflation is controlled.”

“To achieve eight percent economic growth, in my opinion, productivity takes priority over investment.” 

“Today most of our (economic) problems in the country are rooted in imprudence in creating policies.” (June 17, 2024) 

Pourmohammadi: ​​“For the economy to succeed, we must have competition, and the government should not compete.”

“We must return the ownership and management of the stock market to the people.” (June 17, 2024)

“The government should invest in infrastructure so that people, private sector and cooperatives can make the most of these investments. Attention must be paid to main infrastructures, especially the communication and electronic networks, which should be developed and made affordable. We should utilize modern economic engineering in running the country.” (June 17, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “Privatization must be competitive and transparent, with the stock market as its tool.”

“The government should not compete with the private sector; the private sector is a strategic partner of the government, and the government should support its development.”

“The government is a major foundation for investment but should not monopolize.”

“Our economy is unpredictable. It needs to become predictable. We should not make decisions at the expense of exporters. We should not ban the import and export of tomatoes one day and onions the next. We need to stop causing economic hardship for people. (June 17, 2024)

“We will make it easier for young people to get married by providing a one billion toman credit for marriage, housing, and employment.” (June 25, 2024)

Zakani: “My first initiative will be to pay the golden subsidy. Each person will receive a subsidy equivalent to 20 million tomans annually at today's rate, and gasoline prices will revert from 3,000 tomans to 1,500 tomans.” 

“My plan will eliminate smuggling, energy imbalances, and environmental damage, and make the general public wealthier. Ninety-five percent of people will benefit from this plan.” (June 25, 2024)


On reducing inflation

Jalili: “Inflation, especially in recent years, has been caused by the high exchange rate. Whenever the exchange rate goes up, it affects [prices of] goods. Our detailed review shows there are a set of measures in the process of controlling the currency market. We have prepared it and will implement from day one [of a new government]. If the currency market is managed, inflation will be (automatically) controlled.” (June 17, 2024)

Pezeshkian: “Governments are the main cause of inflation. Expanding the [size of] government is the most important cause of inflation. We must use the experience of other countries [in resolving economic issues].”

“Inflation means emptying people’s pockets. People sleep at night, and in the morning, they find their purchasing power has decreased.”

“The inflation rate is at 40 percent, while wages increase by 20 percent.” (June 17, 2024)

“The main cause of inflation is the government, but then they blame producers and shopkeepers for it.” (June 25, 2024)

Qalibaf: “In inflation, the first thing we should pay attention to is budget and its structural reforms…The Central Bank of Iran must stand firm and deal with forces that create money and put pressure on people.” (June 17, 2024)

“We need to bridge the gap between inflation and wage increases. We will ensure people's welfare through a welfare card covering healthcare, livelihood, and essential goods.” (June 20, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “Inflation and liquidity have common roots. Inflation can be reduced by controlling liquidity.” (June 17, 2024)

Zakani: “Banks are the main cause of inflation. Along with the bank, governments are agents. Instead of subsidies, we should give gold credits to people. Subsidies should be given in energy without changing the price.”

“Fundamentally, inflation is not bad. The key is to prevent inflation from becoming erratic and to invest capital in suitable places.” (June 17, 2024)

“From the beginning of (my) government, special accounts will be opened for households, and this money will be deposited into their accounts as credit pegged to the price of gold, protecting it from inflation.” (June 20, 2024)


On corruption and government efficiency

Pezeshkian: “I consider accountability and freedom of expression essential for a transparent and accountable government, free from corruption.”

We need to improve the living conditions of teachers, police officers, workers, etc., so they can have a good life. This requires addressing the money wasted by the government, which we can stop.” (June 25, 2024)

Jalili: “One of the serious problems is the slowness and the weariness of the government apparatus, which needs to be resolved.” (June 25, 2024)

Qalibaf: “The root of corruption lies in inefficiency.”

“Our fundamental problem is that when we take up responsibility, people's concerns become our secondary concern. Whatever we want for ourselves, we must want the same for people as well.” (June 25, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “Corruption networks buy experts, managers, judges, ministers, inspectors, journalists, media, and even news agencies.”

“Transparency, free flow of information and whistleblowers are key factors in fighting corruption.”

“E-government and turning the tax organization into the country's financial police are the most important ways to combat corruption.”

“One of our problems in recent decades is the dysfunctional and pseudo-modern bureaucracy that has emerged from outside.”

“Electronic government means not visiting any government office, not writing any paper, not waiting, and not spending a lot of money.” (June 25, 2024)

Zakani: “Confronting economic corruption is the first step I will take (as the president).” (June 25, 2024) 
“I have been giving yellow cards to economic corruptors for 20 years. With your vote, I will expel them from the economic field.” (June 25, 2024) 

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “I will strike at the hydra-headed dragon of corruption.”

“We must fight against self-defeatism, corruption, inefficiency, populist rhetoric, irresponsibility, laziness, arrogance, and unscientific statements for the sake of the people.” (June 25, 2024)

Budget imbalance must be corrected and budget allocation should be performance-based.”

Transparency, eliminating golden signatures, and removing crony and rent-seeking culture are essential steps in tackling these issues.” (June 25, 2024)


On U.S. sanctions and the 2015 nuclear deal

Pezeshkian: “It's impossible to have a proper trading partner in the world with these sanctions.”

“No country has had economic growth without export growth since World War II.”

“Buying second-hand foreign cars has become an honor for us.” (June 17, 2024)

“I have come to rescue the people from the hardships of sanctions.” (June 25, 2024)

Qalibaf: “I also believe that sanctions are not just a piece of paper and that they harm the country. At the very beginning, I said I agree with negotiations, but negotiations are a method of struggle. The United States has always shown itself to be an enemy of this land. Be certain that we are negotiating with an enemy, not someone who will treat you equally and justly.”

“We need to pursue the lifting of sanctions. I said that to solve the problem of sanctions, wherever we need to go and negotiate, I will not hesitate. But on the other hand, it is rational to consider all the possibilities we have domestically. We waste $104 billion of energy annually; will foreign companies invest this much even if there are no sanctions?” (June 20, 2024)

 “We will definitely negotiate and reach an agreement” to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement. 

“If our oil sales are freed, we can reinstate the Additional Protocol (with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog); if they free our ports, insurance, and central bank from sanctions, we can fulfill commitments.”

“Regarding the neutralization of sanctions, we have significant opportunities such as Eurasia, SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and BRICS (intergovernmental organization including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).”

“We will pursue any agreement that brings economic benefit.” (June 24, 2024)

Jalili: “The policy of maximum pressure failed with planning, understanding opportunities, and attracting investments. The same people who said they wouldn't negotiate with us came and made long-term agreements with us.” (June 17, 2024)

“The essence of foreign policy work is defending the rights of the people and the interests of the country. We propose new mechanisms regarding sanctions: they should not only be lifted but the sanctioning parties should regret their actions.”

“Why was economic growth zero and negative in the years when the JCPOA was signed?” (June 24, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “Sanctions increased, but our oil sales also rose. President Raisi made it happen.” (June 17, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “We have been trapped in the maze of sanctions for over 15 years.”

“The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is not a magical solution but rather a path to lifting sanctions.” (June 24, 2024)

“National capability has enabled us to withstand crippling sanctions.”

“Some used to say that sanctions are not a significant issue. Now they say they impact our economy by 20 to 30 percent. When all our trade and financial relations are locked, how can economic actors operate?”

“We must work with the world and meet the needs of our people.” (June 17, 2024)

“The expansion of subsidies coincided with sanctions. At first, we largely denied the sanctions. At a time when we should have controlled them and prevented international institutions from utilizing all the tools and networks needed to strengthen our economy, we paid no attention.” (June 20, 2024) 

Zakani: “Iran's economic problems are not related to sanctions but the economic prescriptions of the United States.”

“Firstly, we must emphasize economic stability based on de-dollarizing the economy and relying on our national currency. Secondly, we should pursue a production leap focused on product-oriented production. Thirdly, we must accept the governance of the people in the economy. And fourthly, we should prioritize wealth creation.

“We need to de-dollarize the economy. The problem with the economy is that people earn in rials but, due to the path we have set, spend in dollars.” (June 17, 2024)

“No one has stopped the JCPOA. In fact, we are pursuing the implementation of the JCPOA. We have fulfilled our part, but they (Americans) have not. They have betrayed and set it on fire."

“The JCPOA needs to be criticized, and President Raisi criticized it better than anyone.” (June 24, 2024)


On foreign policy and national security

Pezeshkian: “In the region, we can be the transit route from East to West and bring most advantages. Why couldn't we achieve this? Because we are in conflict both among ourselves and with our neighbors.”

“We will secure our share of the market through dialogue with neighbors and unity and cohesion at home.”

“The defensive and deterrent power that the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and the Iranian Army have built is a source of pride for our country.”

“One of the reasons others (enemies) cannot act against us is precisely the capability of our drones and missiles.” (June 24, 2024)

Qalibaf: “Qassem Soleimani (the late commander of the elite Qods Force killed by the United States in 2020) is a role model for us in matters such as: lifting sanctions, neutralizing sanctions, regional power, opportunities, and threats. All of these are lessons.”

“What were the characteristics of Martyr Soleimani? He would talk with the same person he was fighting against.”

“Diplomacy and the battlefield are both (powerful) tools. Negotiations are a method of combat. This is the roadmap of the Islamic Republic.”

“Today, through security cooperation with our neighbors, we have thwarted U.S. interference (in the region) and disrupted their hegemony. We must also take advantage of the economic opportunity that entails.” (June 24, 2024)

“We need to build walls along our eastern borders to ensure the security of that region. Illegal immigrants cause serious social issues related to drugs and employment.” (June 20, 2024)

Jalili: “Today, we have two main issues in the country: employment and earning foreign currency. These two should be reflected in our foreign policy.”

“Each of our embassies should be an export platform, and they should have a mission defined for employment and earning foreign currency for the country.”

“From Latin America to Africa, our neighbors, and countries in the Axis of Resistance (Iran’s network of allies across the Middle East) can create opportunities for us, we should not overlook them.” (June 24, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “We must negotiate and work diligently in a way that the enemy's motivation and greed dries up.”

“Instead of focusing on differences, we should plan based on our commonalities with other countries.”

“Confrontation and negotiation are not mutually exclusive. To reach a good understanding with the opposite side, we must first demonstrate our strength.” (June 24, 2024)


On the compulsory hijab and the role of women

Pezeshkian: “Women should be in a position where they can play a constructive role.”

“There is no difference between men and women in ideological terms. Our women can also occupy the same positions as our men.”

“We are against any coercion or harsh treatment towards anyone, let alone women.”

“Behavior won’t change with laws. Just as they couldn't forcibly remove hijab from Iranian women before, we will not be able to impose hijab on them forcefully.” (June 21, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “We should trust the women of our country and utilize their capabilities for the development of the country.”

“Women have made significant progress in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but they still have not reached their true position.”

“Hijab is a religious and legal requirement, and we all accept that. For 40 years, we have been trying to promote Islamic dress. We have spent a lot of public funds on this through media, universities, schools etc., but we have not achieved the desired result.” (June 21, 2024)

Qalibaf: “Poor dress and lack of hijab are harmful to the family and society, and we should not allow this to happen.”

“The Hijab and Chastity Bill outlines how things should be done. Violence against (those not observing) hijab is condemned. The institutions with cultural roles are not doing their part regarding hijab, and as a result everything falls to the police.”

“A woman, as a mother, wife, child-rearer, and household manager, compensates for all deficiencies, from the national level to the family level, especially during times of economic hardships.” (June 21, 2024)

Jalili: “We must not allow the glorious role of Iranian women in various fields to be censored.”

“Let's look at the role of housewives, why isn't their role recognized? Through proper upbringing of children and creating a safe environment within the family, they contribute to raising youth who are agents of progress in society.”

“Hijab is the dress code of women’s social presence to preserve and strengthen the sanctity of the family.”

“What our women are concerned about is why this role and position of women is constrained (in the West).” (June 21, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “One of the best occupations for women is online jobs, allowing them to manage both household responsibilities and their own businesses.”

“Ninety-four percent of our women have a university education, but 56 percent of them are unemployed.”

“The government is obliged to employ women with children and provide facilities such as affordable childcare centers.”

“Our women's concern is not the hijab. Their main concern is discrimination in opportunities, and they are right to be concerned.” (June 21, 2024)

Zakani: “As a father of three daughters and as a husband, I believe balancing homemaking, marital responsibilities, and child-rearing is entirely achievable.”

“Women's issues cannot be addressed with mere slogans. Women inside and outside their homes need security.”

“Many statements are merely slogans. Islam places women and girls in a position where they have opportunities, not issues.” (June 21, 2024)


On internet filtering and censorship

Pezeshkian: “What's the need to filter the internet? We should set it free. Twitter is a place for education, and we can teach many things through it.” (June 21, 2024)

Qalibaf: “We need to safeguard the internet, but without restrictions.”

“I am definitely against filtering because it will have many dangers and lead to a lot of corruption.”

“Precise and intelligent monitoring of the virtual space is also necessary to alleviate concerns from families, especially about our youth.” (June 21, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “We should not only focus on filtering. Currently, we are also dealing with the proxy filter mafia.” (June 21, 2024)

Zakani: “Filtering differs from safeguarding. Some initially recklessly allowed messaging platforms to emerge without control.”

“Foreign messaging apps can also come (to Iran) provided they commit to (the country's) laws.” (June 21, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “I will deal with filtering according to societal norms.”

“Precise and scientific filtering has not been implemented.” (June 21, 2024)


On the government’s role in arts and culture

Pezeshkian: “The government should refrain from interference (in art and culture) and should be the policymaker and overseer of programs.”

“Government should not manage culture. This work belongs to seminaries, mosques, schools, and universities.”

“The process of obtaining permits needs to be revised so that films can participate in international festivals.” (June 21, 2024)

Qalibaf:Culture, in fact, means that people produce and consume themselves. Governments should navigate, produce, and guide.” (June 21, 2024)


On helping vulnerable and disadvantaged Iranians

Pezeshkian: “We need to improve the living conditions of teachers, police officers, workers, etc., so they can have a good life. This requires addressing the money wasted by the government, which we can stop.”

“Any government intervention should benefit the disadvantaged. The laws exist but the problem is we don't implement them.” (June 25, 2024)

Qalibaf: “We must strive to increase the wages of those with fixed income in line with growth and inflation, either through cash or essential goods.” (June 20, 2024)

“We will give 200 square meters of land to anyone who doesn't have housing that can be used for residential purposes. If this happens, the problem will be solved.” (June 24, 2024)

Jalili: “Eliminating absolute poverty is not sufficient with mere subsidies. We need to establish a welfare system across different (social) layers to achieve the sublime goal of welfare and eradication of absolute poverty.”

“The government's duty is to distribute resources in the best and most just way possible. If we compare two families in Tehran or another part of the country: one family with three cars and a four-person family without a car. The family with three cars receives 12 times more in subsidies than the family without any cars.” (June 20, 2024)

Zakani: “We will harmonize the rights of retirees, which we have legislation for, over a period of three years.” (June 25, 2024)

“I will also ensure food security. No one should go to bed with an empty stomach. Our good experience in the (Tehran) municipality has provided us with a solid foundation to achieve this for the general public.” (June 25, 2024)

Ghazizadeh Hashemi: “I will complete the implementation of the law supporting the disabled people, which began during Martyr President Raisi's tenure.” (June 25, 2024)

Pourmohammadi: “Providing justice-oriented services is a fundamental issue for all governments. In the past two decades, however, a more serious issue has arisen: distributing subsidies in a way that ensures appropriate services reach everyone, especially the deprived. When we look at the current situation, this volume of subsidy distribution and our actions have not brought comfort to the deprived classes, and economic problems have increased.” (June 20, 2024)

Social security means the stability and peace of society. It means if someone falls ill, becomes disabled, or loses their job, is there anyone to take care of them?”

“Currently, our social security system and pension organizations are unfortunately among the weakest parts of our system.” (June 25, 2024)


On diversity and minorities

Pezeshkian: “Iran is a vast country with cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity, and I have come to respect this diversity.” (June 25, 2024)