Tehran's mayor drops out of Iran election to back hard-liner

Ghalibaf and Raisi clashed with Rouhani during last Friday's nationally televised debate.

However, the Tehran mayor issued a statement on Monday announcing that he was to withdraw from the presidential race while backing principlist candidate, Raeisi.

The other remaining candidates are Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri, who supports Rouhani and is thought to have simply entered the contest to shield him from attacks, fellow reformer Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a former industry minister, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a conservative and former culture minister.

Raisi's popularity has risen steadily in recent weeks and Qalibaf's move should give him a last-minute boost against Rouhani, who has eased Iran's global isolation though failed to spur a sluggish economy.

Jahangiri meantime called on the Iranian nation to massively participate in the 12th presidential election due to be held on Friday.

Following Rouhani's inauguration in August 2013, he launched a diplomatic campaign to improve Iranian engagement with the West.

A close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi is also thought to be in line to become supreme leader in the future.

The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, thrilling his supporters. Many residents of Iran's capital vented anger at Qalibaf and Tehran authorities after a massive January fire at a historic high-rise caused the building to collapse, killing 26 people, including 16 firefighters. He now wants Rouhani to be removed from office and replaced by the ultra hard-line executioner Raisi, a senior cleric who wears the black turban, signifying his direct descendancy from the Prophet Mohammad.

On May 15 Iran's conservative candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has stepped down and said that he would support other like-minded candidate Ebrahim Raisi in the presidential race.

Speaking at a massive campaign tally in Tehran on Saturday, Rouhani said the May 19 vote will be a "great historical decision" for Iran between "the path of peacefulness" and "constructive communication with the world" or tension and isolation.

The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal struck with world powers shepherded by Rouhani's administration.

He said those forces were telling voters they should fear the scenario of Rouhani's reelection, because the outgoing president plans to cut off all financial aids meant to citizens. He was later promoted by Ayatollah Khamenei as the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, a foundation that manages donations to the country's holiest shrine in the city of Mashhad. He is a cleric who represents the moderate or reform wing of Iranian politics.

In the absence of credible polling in Iran, it is hard to gauge Raisi's popularity across Iran, particularly given that he has not run for presidency before.

Both had promised to create 5-6 million jobs in their first terms, if elected, and to triple monthly cash handouts to Iran's poor, but have been criticized for not explaining how they would fund such undertakings. For someone who served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, Rouhani was well aware of what he was saying: Any negotiations concerning the broad list of United States sanctions on Iran, whether in regard to Iran's missiles program or human rights, will need Khamenei's permission to proceed.

  • Arturo Norris