Passport

Iranian presidential debate morphs into odd mix of Pictionary and quiz bowl

On Friday, Iran’s eight presidential candidates participated in the first of three televised debates ahead of the country’s June 14 election, focusing this time around on the economic woes facing Iranians. And fortunately for those of us who don’t speak Farsi, Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty live-blogged the whole thing. According to her ...

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, Iran’s eight presidential candidates participated in the first of three televised debates ahead of the country’s June 14 election, focusing this time around on the economic woes facing Iranians. And fortunately for those of us who don’t speak Farsi, Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty live-blogged the whole thing. According to her account, the first half of the debate mainly consisted of politicians essentially agreeing on issues such as labor and inflation — not exactly prime ratings fodder.

But halfway through the forum things took a delightfully unexpected turn. After returning from a break, the candidates were treated to a lightning round of sorts. As Esfandiari blogged:

In second part of debates, candidates will have to answer to short questions, test-like, they have to respond with one word. Aref upset, says I won’t take a test. Anchor says it’s not test. 

According to Esfandiari, candidate Mohammad Reza Aref never quite warmed to the format, and kept stubbornly repeating that he didn’t have a view on the issues being raised:

Presenter to Aref: Mr. Aref you don’t want to answer any of the questions? Aref: I took tests some years ago. Presenter smiles.

As journalist Hooman Majd tweeted, most of the candidates shared Aref’s frustration and took their anger out on the host:

 

Eventually, the moderator had the good sense to switch gears:

Presenter: in respect to candidates who objected , we stop our short questions. We show you some pictures, we want to know your interpretation. 

What proceeded was, as Esfandiari put it, "a presidential Rorschach test" where candidates were shown pictures including a ship (prompting candidate Hasan Rowhani to reasonably reference how international sanctions are hurting sea transport) and a patient recovering from surgery in a hospital (which launched candidate Mohammad Gharazi into a more tangential discussion of Iran’s obesity problem).

While all of this may seem a little ridiculous for those of us observing the Iranian election from afar, it’s worth noting that U.S. presidential debates have experimented with similar formats (and let’s not even get started on CNN’s theatrics). During a February 2012 Republican primary debate, for instance, the candidates were asked to describe themselves with a single word. Newt Gingrich elicited laughter after going with "cheerful." Maybe sometimes one word can say it all.

Marya Hannun is a Ph.D. student in Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter at: @mrhannun.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola