The lines seemed to be clearly drawn in Iran's second presidential debate which focused on cultural and social views of the eight approved candidates. The two moderate candidates, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani and former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref, had similar views on issues such as state censorship, citizen’s rights and also the need to minimize the state role in culture.
"Why should the government take everything into its own hands [regarding cultural affairs]? Well, it’s acceptable that the government can make policies regarding the culture and can control and protect it. However, we should hand over cultural affairs to people who create art, and the government’s responsibility is to assist them." Said Rohani.
Aref had similar comments: “We should entirely minimize the state’s role in supervising art and cultural affairs. We should seriously work in diminishing government’s role in this sphere. Art and culture should be handed over to those who make art and culture.”
They both criticized the state crackdown on universities and offered their condolences over the death of Ayatollah Taheri who was a critic of the clerical establishment. Both were critical of some of the state policies. Aref , who lack personal charisma, turned out to be the most outspoken of the two.
Among the conservative candidates, Jalili was clearly the most hardline. In a few instances he mildly clashed with Rohani over the crackdown on universities and other issues. His views on women and his emphasize on the role of women as mothers, is likely to anger women’s rights activists. Rohani on the other hand spoke about the need for women to have equal rights with men. He also promised that if elected, he would establish a women’s affairs ministry.
The candidates will take part in their final televised debate on Friday, about a week before the June 14 presidential election.