Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Economic Issues Are the Top Concern in the Iranian Election

Sources: New York Times, Candidates in Iran Split on Direction of Economy; IslamOnline, Iran: Election and Economy

As the stage is set for Iran's presidential election on Friday, Iranian voters' biggest concern is the economy. President Ahmadinejad, running for re-election, hopes to convince voters that Iran is in good shape compared with the rest of the world, and that he has done enough to improve the lot of the average Iranian. On the other hand, unemployment and inflation are rising, and according to the IMF, Iran's growth is slowing.

Much of the debate is over numbers—how to report inflation, for example. Ahmadinejad uses the year-on-year change in prices to show lower inflation than his opponents, who use the more common annualized average or projected annual rate. Opponents also are trying to focus on mismanagement of oil wealth in the years preceding the crisis, on unemployment, and on slowing overall growth. They criticize Ahmadinejad for focusing only on populist goals, rather than the need to create jobs and develop infrastructure. On the other hand, populist programs have endeared some voters to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and the numbers battle can be confusing for the average voter, with whom measures to reduce poverty and increase benefits resonate strongly.

Two of the challengers have some experience in economics, and all three have a particular focus to their economic plan. Leading challenger Mirhossein Mousavi is a former Prime Minister who brings experience to the table from his handling of the economy during the Iran-Iraq war. He is supported by those economists opposed to Ahmadinejad's policies, and he is particularly focused on unemployed youth. Mohsen Rezaei is an economist by profession who wants to bring rational economic policies to the office. Mehdi Karoubi, the second-place finisher in 2005's election, is focused on welfare and a more humane approach, including support for women who work from home. To counter these candidates' proposals, Ahmadinead's focus is on an Islamic concept of economics tied up in social justice, which served him well in the 2005 race.

1) How important do you think social justice and programs for the poor are for a developing country in this crisis?
2) Do you think that Ahmadinejad's attempts to present the numbers in a favorable light and continue defending his economic policies is politically wise, or would it make more sense to focus on the realities of the crisis and getting through it?

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