With all the attention given to the purely political machinations of the presidential election, it is easy to overlook the coverage of the domestic issues – most notably the state of Iran’s economy – that are considered the most important factors on the minds of the electorate. In fact, a substantial segment of commentary in the Iranian press on the role of the economy in the election has been made up of pieces lamenting the lack of attention the candidates themselves are giving the economic wellbeing of Iranians, with writers complaining that the presidential hopefuls are often mentioning the plight of Iranians under the Ahmadinejad years, yet few have given much of any concrete proposals for economic policy.
Mohammad Hormozi’s piece in Qods on Tuesday exemplifies this, as he wrote that Iranian households are crippled by inflation and unemployment, and while the candidates have frequently “spoken of the difficulties faced by the people, but have not made coherent or detailed plans or recommendations…none of them have drawn up a proposal to exit this double crisis.” Similarly, Meysam Hashemkhani argued in Donya-e Eqtesad that there have been no proposals made by candidates to deal with Iran’s poorest citizens, and Iran needs bold leaders to step forward: “Which candidate is ready to be the first to pledge to, instead of distributing subsidies directly as handouts, make steps toward subsidizing minimum health insurance for all Iranians? Which candidate is ready to be the first to pledge to…instead of selling oil dollars at prices 35% less than the market rate, budget money toward schools in Iran’s deprived areas…?” Meanwhile, Jomhouri Eslami’s unsigned editorial on Monday suggested that the “disastrous results” of President Ahmadinejad’s economic policies – specifically the closure of the Management and Planning Organization – are so clear that all candidates have simply been putting forward the same economic proposals by pledging to do things differently from Ahmadinejad – beginning with reinstating the Organization. In the absence of direct plans from candidates, Donya-e Eqtesad also reported, the Iran Chamber of Commerce presented its recommendations from the private sector to the candidates this week.
Rather than focusing on detailed proposals, many candidates have focused primarily on conveying their images as strong managers, arguing that this managerial expertise will translate to a strong stewardship of the economy. Saeed Jalili’s campaign manager, Ali Bagheri, argued in an Etemaad interview that his job as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council qualify him to manage the economy, while MP Ebrahim Neku argued in Tehran-e Emrooz – which has run pieces praising Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s managerial experience as mayor of Tehran – that administrative power is crucial for the presidency.
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
A report in the economic daily Donya-e Eqtesad outlines the recommendations made by the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture in a booklet aimed at influencing the next government’s policies. Stressing the complaints made by the private sector over the current policies of the Iranian government, the booklet seeks to get candidates to pledge to refrain from continuing the current government’s “approbatory and unlimited interventions in the economy,” its control over the ownership of economic corporations, and its manner of supplying public commodities. The editors of the report argue that given restrictions caused by sanctions and decreasing oil income, the government is no longer in a position to be the active investor it has sought to be, and that the private sector must use this space left by the necessary retreat of the government – without interference from the government. “Escaping from the three aforementioned forms of interference is part of the way, but also with the increase in the restrictions from sanctions and decreasing oil income, the strategic matter of the oil-independent economy has received increasing attention, and at this time the government must plan a new strategy to compensate for its reduced income.” The suggestions include a The booklet, entitled “A Road Map for Iran’s Economy,” was rolled out in an event that included several models presented for improving privatization in the next administration by Iranian economist Massoud Nili, including the possibility that Iran redouble its efforts at privatization and removing price controls, following the examples set by China and Eastern Europe.
Hashemkhani begins her commentary in the economic daily Donya-e Eqtesad by asking, “What is the share of the ‘Iranians living in deprived areas’ in the election?” She wonders skeptically, “In the 16 remaining days, will any of the presidential candidates speak of plans for a ‘logical and transparent plan’ to build the capacity of the lowest-earning deciles of our country?” She speaks of the biggest threat to millions of Iranians, particularly those living in the poorest regions, as being the “heavy inflation [that has been] brought to the dinner tables.” With inflation hovering above 30%, she demands that candidates be willing to look abroad for models for Iranian economic policy, for the good of the nation: “At a time, when, according to the latest IMF report, only 23 nations have inflation greater than 10%, which candidate is ready to be the first to pledge to make use of the experience of the 170 countries with inflation less than 10%, and to bring inflation under 10% by the end of his term?” She writes that the economic policies supposedly aimed at poverty in recent years have been inefficient, and that, given the importance of health and education in the economics of poverty, presidential candidates need to pledge to address these linkages. “Which candidate is ready to be the first to pledge to, instead of distributing subsidies directly as handouts, make steps toward subsidizing minimum health insurance for all Iranians? Which candidate is ready to be the first to pledge to…instead of selling oil dollars at prices 35% less than the market rate, budget money toward schools in Iran’s deprived areas…?”
In an interview with the reformist Etemaad, Ali Bagheri, the campaign manager and Supreme National Security Council deputy of hardline candidate Saeed Jalili, argued that Jalili would be able to succeed in managing Iran’s economic problems due to his ability to manage. Trying to deflect criticism that Jalili has no economic or executive experience – and expressing frustration at being asked again whether “Jalili in 1392 (2013) is the same as the Ahmadinejad of 1384 (2007)” – Bagheri says that Jalili has a history of management experience and expert knowledge, including on the economy. He suggests that heading the Supreme National Security Council has qualified him in this way, arguing “In the secretariat [of the SNSC], regarding the internal and foreign politics, and economic, cultural, legal, and other issues at the country’s macro level, he has carried out expert assessments to offer solutions for the problems, use the opportunities, and deal with the threats.”
Writing in Qods, Mohammad Hormozi argues that the people of Iran demand answers to their economic woes – particularly inflation and unemployment – from their next president, but complains that none of the candidates have shown any preparation for dealing with these issues. “Households with multiple unemployed youths, who at the same time are constantly and severely nagged by the ceaseless high prices, have, aside from the usual requests, have one major request for their presidential candidates: that they break these twin challenges.” He writes that the candidates have frequently “spoken of the difficulties faced by the people, but have not made coherent or detailed plans or recommendations…none of them have drawn up a proposal to exit this double crisis.” He then cites interviews with average Iranians, such as a business owner who tells him, “Tell the next president to act upon his slogans; now the prices of rice and oil have gone too high; we want a president who can bring down the price of commodities and save us from the evil of inflation,” and a middle aged man who says, “From me, tell him that the people have become tired of the prices of goods increasing each day!” He also cites Iranians who demand that any plan to fix inflation must start by addressing the sharp decrease in the value of the rial.
The unsigned editorial in Jomhouri Eslami writes that structural changes made to Iran’s economic planning capacity during the Ahmadinejad administration have led to near unanimity in the economic proposals presented by the presidential candidates – specifically, they propose to undo the moves taken by Ahmadinejad. While the economic state of Iran is a testament to the many “big mistakes” perpetrated by the president, the paper writes, at the top of this list is the shocking decision by the president during his first term to do away with the independent economic planning bodies – most notably the Management and Planning Organization. It argues that the move, made on the pretext of “shrinking the government,” resulted in “the closure of 17 high councils, many of which were creating platforms for the country’s most experienced experts and former government officials to discuss their ideas on various economic issues.” The piece continues by noting the prevailing interpretation that the closure of the Management and Planning Organization was done to consolidate power within Ahmadinejad’s circle, at the expense of a more robust and logical decision-making process. Discussing the upcoming election, the paper argues that the damage the move made to coherent economic planning has been so clear that all candidates have made the reinstatement of the body one of their top economic proposals – part of a pattern of simply opposing Ahmadinejad’s policies in their economic platforms. The policies pursued in the last eight years are so “completely against the logic of economic theory and the direct and explicit warnings of experts” that they have led to “a lack of difference between the proposals” of the candidates.