Hard times for Iran


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If there is an issue at the core of Iran’s presidential election next month, it is whether the next president can jumpstart the economy and ease the deep financial pressures facing the majority of Iranians.

Spiralling prices and constricted spending power have left millions of Iranians struggling against a virulent combination of Western economic sanctions and poor fiscal management.

The six candidates are locked in a battle for voters over who could mend the economy, a much deeper problem than four years ago when urban masses disputed the election result and took to the streets in protest.

“With inflation and unemployment in an upwards spiral, the main concern of voters is bread and butter issues. The average Iranian voter is now 38 years old and primarily concerned with securing a livelihood,” says Mohammad Shabani, an independent Iran analyst based in Britain.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot stand again and will be replaced by one of the six candidates, all approved by the Guardian Council loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They all accuse Ahmadinejad of mismanaging the economy over his two terms in office.

“The government is like a decrepit car and it is vital that we take away all the obstacles that are slowing its performance,” hardline presidential candidate Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, said last month.

“Our country is one of the most powerful in the region and our missiles can reach thousands of kilometres but we’re in need of chicken meat,” said candidate Mohsen Rezaie, former head of the Revolutionary Guards, during a campaign advertisement.

Hard-hitting sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies targeting Iran’s oil and banking sectors nearly halved oil revenues in 2012 to around $50-60bn. Iranian banks were disconnected from the global financial network, making payment transfers to or from Iran extremely difficult.

As a result, Iran’s currency has plummeted in value, bringing soaring inflation and unemployment as businesses struggle to adapt. Iranians now pay up to three times more for staple foods than they did twelve months ago.

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