ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran's six presidential candidates will participate in a live debate on Friday to discuss cultural and political issues ahead of the country's May 19 vote, which will shape the Islamic Republic's economic and domestic policy for years to come.
Pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani was criticized by his hardline challengers for failing to bolster the economy in a three-hour debate last week.
"The session is to start at 16:30 local time (12:00 GMT) on Friday. It is to address political and cultural issues," Iranian state TV reported.
Rouhani, seeking a second term in office, faced criticism over the economy despite championing the deal reached with six powers in 2015 that led to the lifting of most international sanctions against Iran in 2016 in exchange for curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
Elected by a landslide majority in 2013, Rouhani defended his economic record during the first debate, complaining that it had been subjected to "lies and defamation".
"During the debate, we should avoid lies and tearing each other apart. A healthy debate can help people to choose the best candidate," Rouhani told state TV ahead of the second debate.
Rouhani's first Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, who is also running for election but will campaign alongside the president, said engagement with the world was essential for boosting the economy.
Tehran's conservative mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), accused Rouhani of mismanagement and failure to tackle the unemployment.
Hardline mid-ranking cleric Ebrahim Raisi, one of four sharia (Islamic law) judges who oversaw the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, said he will support the poor.
Raisi and Qalibaf have promised to create millions of jobs per year, if elected, but economists said their campaign promises were "unrealistic".
Analysts said Qalibaf, the former senior commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), had emerged as Rouhani's main challenger after the first debate.
Iran's ultimate authority and his hardline allies have criticized Rouhani's economic policy, saying the diplomatic opening afforded by the nuclear deal had not yielded benefits promised by the president.
Official unemployment runs at just over 12 percent but independent analysts put it at about 20 percent.
Various obstacles have scared away foreign investors from returning to Iran's market, including lingering unilateral U.S. sanctions and the heavy role of powerful hardline institutions such as the IRGC in the economy.
Iran's president broadly manages domestic affairs, above all the economy, and can influence foreign policy decisions. But Khamenei has the last say on all state matters.
Analysts say Rouhani has a high chance of re-election despite his vulnerability over the economy as he is the only candidate supported by a pro-reform camp while hardliners have failed to unite behind one candidate.
Other candidates are ex-conservative culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim and moderate ex-vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, editing by Ed Osmond)