Iran Elections: Conservative Candidate and Tehran Mayor Ghalibaf Withdraws from Race

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A conservative candidate dropped out of Iran’s presidential election on Monday to back a hard-liner, state television reported, narrowing the field of those hoping to unseat moderate President Hassan Rouhani.Qalibaf, a former Guards commander and police chief, was one of main rivals of president Hassan Rouhani who is seeking a second term.As the race between the two candidates tightens, the support of the country’s Kurds and Sunnis, who constitute around 20 percent of the Iranian population, could have a determining impact on the outcome of the elections.”I ask all my popular supporters across the country to use all their potential and support for the success of our respectable brother, Ebrahim Raisi”, he said.Qalibaf’s allies had argued that he had more recognition in the capital Tehran and among young voters, and offered a more coherent economic plan than some other conservative candidates.While it was clear that US President Barack Obama had sought an opening with Iran – he shook hands with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif behind closed doors in New York – Iran’s leadership, in particular the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never trusted the opposing side enough to allow discussions to go beyond the nuclear file.”Not all of Qalibaf’s supporters will move to Raisi, but he does provide some capacity for conservatives to unite”, said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.”I am also very thankful”, Raisi replied to the crowd.For the past several months the ultra-conservative camp has been vocal in its criticism of Mr. Rouhani’s agenda, dismissing his economic and political outreach to the West as being naive and risky for the ideological future of the Iranian system.More than 60 “violations” linked to Friday’s presidential and regional elections in Iran have occurred and two people have been arrested, the judiciary said, at a time of mounting tension between moderate and hardline factions.Abrams notably doesn’t have much to say about the nuclear deal with Iran.The first vice president added that he regarded support for President Rouhani’s administration, which managed to prepare the ground and make up for the past mismanagement, as the support for the entire Islamic establishment. 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.Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi will gain votes from Qalibaf’s endorsement, but it may not be enough to defeat Rouhani. Qalibaf pulled in 4 million votes in the first round of balloting in 2005 and over 6 million in 2013.Ghalibaf joined Raisi onstage at a rally Tuesday in Tehran and they clasped hands. Both presidential hopefuls jumped on the Islamic Republic’s unemployment rate, which rose to 12.4 percent last year, up 1.4 percent from the previous year.