Rouhani Tells Critics Their 'Era Is Over' as Iran's Vote Nears

  • President’s encounter with anguished miners on front pages
  • ‘We want freedom,’ he says in attack on conservative opponents

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit out at his hardline challengers, targeting their records on corruption and freedom of speech, less than two weeks before he seeks re-election.

Rouhani, in a campaign speech in the western city of Hamedan on Monday, said he’s in the election to “tell the extremists and those who use violence that your era is over.” “You ran this country for eight years and the people saw what you did,” the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported him as saying.

“We want freedom,” Rouhani said, in an apparent swipe at rivals who oppose greater social liberties in the Islamic Republic. “Your rationale is one of just banning things.”

Rouhani, 68, on Sunday faced anguished miners as he visited a coal mine where an explosion last week killed more than three dozen men. Conservative news outlets seized on video footage purportedly showing the president’s car being surrounded and jumped on by men as it arrived at the mine.

His trip to the northwest was part of a nationwide push to shore up support outside of Iran’s biggest cities ahead of the May 19 vote. His leading challengers -- hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi and conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf -- have attacked Rouhani’s record, in particular the delay in turning the 2015 nuclear deal into better living standards for the majority.

Both candidates have said they would respect the accord if elected but a conservative victory could undermine efforts to attract foreign investment and make relations with the West -- and especially the U.S. -- more confrontational. Oil output has recovered under the nuclear deal, the economy is growing again and rapid price gains have subsided. Yet the hoped for surge in foreign investment hasn’t happened.

‘All Our Might’

Hours later in the city of Orumiyeh, the president, a moderate cleric, addressed the mine tragedy directly. “This mine was under the control of the private sector and the management of this institution have to be answerable to the people,” Rouhani said, according to the semi-official moderate newspaper Arman. “We will stand by the people with all our strength.”

Sections of Iran’s media kept quiet about high levels of unemployment during the eight-year presidency of his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he said. “Now that we created 650,000 jobs in the past year, they start targeting unemployment and they say we have to pay taxes. But no one is asking them, who was paying taxes when you were in charge, have you even ever paid taxes?”

Swipe at Raisi

In Orumiyeh, Rouhani also lashed out at Raisi, who has held several senior positions in the judiciary and as an attorney during his career.

On voting day "the people will say ’no’ to those who over the course of 38 years only executed and jailed," Rouhani said.

"Those of you who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut. Those of you who over the past years only issued the word ’ban’, banned the pen and banned the picture. Please don’t even breathe the word freedom for it shames freedom," he told his supporters.

Rouhani then used a rally in Kermanshah to criticize censorship of one of his campaign films. References to former President Mohammad Khatami and the house arrests of two other reformist politicians were removed by the state broadcaster before the video was broadcast on Saturday.

“The people want the prohibitions to end,” Rouhani told supporters, according to his campaign’s Instagram account. “On what grounds do you prohibit a person’s picture, the picture of one of society’s elders? By what law did you do such a thing?”

— With assistance by Ladane Nasseri

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