Iran reformist drops out of election, supports Rouhani

Frederick Owens
May 18, 2017

Tehran's mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a candidate for Iran's upcoming presidential election, said on Monday that he decides to withdraw from the presidential race to back another candidate Ebrahim Raisi, state TV reported.

"It's definitely more hard for Rouhani now", said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Iran's president broadly manages domestic affairs while the actual head of state is the Supreme Leader, now Ayatollah Khomeini, who has constitutional authority over everything in the country, including the armed forces, foreign policy, and the judiciary.

Jahangiri issued a statement on Tuesday, saying he made a decision to enter the presidential race at senior reformists' discretion and after consultation with President Rouhani to elucidate the country's situation "at the beginning and along the path that we have taken". "This great ideal can only be achieved by changing the status quo".

Three front-runners have emerged in Iran's presidential election: Hassan Rouhani, Ebrahimi Raisi, and Mohammad Ghalibaf.

The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, thrilling his supporters.

There was no immediate reaction from Rouhani.

Addressing the Iranian people, he said, "We hope that on the day of the election (May 19), we would decide our fate for the coming years and decades".

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But it isn't clear that all Qalibaf's supporters will heed his call. While the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions has alleviated pressure on Iran's struggling economy, many European firms remain fearful of investing in Iran due to the remaining USA sanctions, some of which threaten to punish third parties that violate them.

Tensions between moderate and hardline political factions have escalated in the run-up to Friday's election as top candidates have resorted to unusually caustic criticism of each other, a rarity in Iranian political discourse.

Iran's Ministry of the Interior says 56.41 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on Friday.

Vice president and presidential contender, Es'haq Jahangiri, announced on Tuesday he has dropped out in favor of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, urging his backers to turn out in large numbers to give Rouhani a stronger mandate to press ahead with his plans to bolster the economy and promote social freedoms. The average Iranian has yet to see benefits from the deal, making Rouhani vulnerable in his bid for another four-year term. Raisi has been campaigning on that, proposing cash payments for the poor that proved popular in the past under Ahmadinejad.

The former prosecutor is now head of a multi-billion-dollar charitable foundation that manages donations to Iran's holiest shrine in the city of Mashhad. He already has the support of two major clerical bodies that declined to endorse anyone in the last presidential election. In 1988, Raisi was involved in a mass execution of political prisoners that is considered one of the most tragic events in the history of the Islamic Republic.

According to polling released last month by the Iranian Studies Polling Agency, 28 percent of the Iranian public describe themselves as reformists, versus only 15 percent who consider themselves hard-liners or "principalists". Qalibaf's endorsement may push those so far unexcited by the election into voting for Rouhani, said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group.

"It was easy to confront Qalibaf because of his debate performance and past experiences, but it's more hard for them to confront Raisi as he's really a newcomer to the political scene", Izadi said.

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