Conservative drops out of Iran election to back hard-liner

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf quit the Iranian presidential race on Monday, backing instead conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi in Friday's vote.

Mr Raisi is a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani's government signed a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that ended some sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran's relations with the USA, which improved under Rouhani and led to the nuclear deal and the lifting of some sanctions, have also hung over the campaigning.

In the 1997 elections, the reformist Mohammad Khatami was one of the four candidates to run for presidency and was open on social and political reforms.

The 1979 revolution in Iran, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini, transformed the USA -backed and monarch-ruled country into a republic system under the Islamic ideology. Iranians, who in the last few years put all their hopes for a better economic situation on the nuclear deal, are now facing an escalating rhetoric from the new U.S. administration. But his gender-segregated rallies are in stark contrast to the mixed, youthful and middle class crowds turning out for Rouhani, who has been endorsed by leading reformists and celebrities such as Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi. Even during the presidential campaign and the televised debates which followed, the Rouhani government was vehemently criticised for its lack of success in tackling high unemployment and growing inequality, together with the reintegration of Iran into global financial platforms.

Also incumbent President Rouhani traveled to Kurdish speaking regions in Lorestan Province east of the the country on Sunday encouraging the voters to turn out at the ballot box on Friday.

Rouhani squeaked through in the first round of 2013 with 50.7 percent of the vote.

There are five candidates remaining following Qalibaf's withdrawal, including Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, who supports Rouhani and whose candidacy has been aimed at uniting forces behind him, and fellow reformer Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a former industry minister. It is reasonable to assume that this deal would not have been completed (and might not have been attempted) under a more hard-line Iranian president.

Although the supreme leader is officially above the fray of everyday politics, Khamenei can sway a presidential vote by giving a candidate his quiet endorsement, a move that could galvanize hardline efforts to get the conservative vote out. "In Tehran, his votes will go mainly to Rouhani but outside Tehran his supporters will vote for Raisi".

Rohani's supporters have called for the release of the opposition figures at many of his campaign events in recent days.

ERDBRINK: Yeah. There are six pre-selected candidates here in Iran, and his two main competitors are both conservatives. "We will not let Iran become isolated once again".

This election will actually be a referendum on Hassan Rouhani's nuclear deal.

Ghalibaf encouraged his voters to back Hardliner candidate Ibrahim Raisi in order to ensure the "preservation of the interests of the people, the revolution and the country".

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