Iran presidential election: Conservative candidate Ghalibaf withdraws

Iran presidential election: Conservative candidate Ghalibaf withdraws

Iran presidential election: Conservative candidate Ghalibaf withdraws

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf quit the Iranian presidential race, backing instead hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in Friday's vote.

Mohammad-Baghar Ghalibaf, who has twice before been defeated in presidential elections, issued a statement on Monday saying he was stepping aside to bolster the campaign of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi.

A survey conducted by the Information Agency of the Islamic Republic (IRNA) on May 7-8 revealed that about 66.7 percent of respondents will participate in the presidential elections on May 19 in Iran.

Mr Rouhani, first elected in a landslide win four years ago on a promise to reduce Iran's global isolation, is trying to hold on to office by firing up reformist voters disillusioned by a stalled economy and the slow pace of social reform.

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Rouhani, a pragmatist who has eased Iran's worldwide isolation and now faces mostly hardline conservative challengers for the presidency, told supporters he needed a stronger mandate to liberalise Iranian society and get opposition leaders freed.

Iranian youth have found ways to circumvent the social media restrictions within their country in order to express their discontent with the Iranian elections to the world, using the slogans "Iranian people's vote is [for the] overthrow of the regime", "My vote is regime change", and "death to the principle of velayat-e faqih".

But Rohani's influence is limited and he has less power than Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Afterwards Rouhani reacted angrily stating: "Mr. Raisi, you can slander me as much you wish".

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The president has faced a significant challenge from conservatives because the landmark nuclear deal with world powers that he negotiated in 2015 has not triggered the economic recovery he predicted.

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.

In the last election in 2013, the former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief came a distant second to Mr Rouhani with 16.5% of the vote. The move comes just four days before the election which could have major impacts on Iran's foreign policy. Raisi has been campaigning on that, proposing populist cash payments for the poor that have proven popular in the country in the past under Ahmadinejad. Every Iranian president since 1981 has won a second term.

"The people of Iran will announce in this election that they don't accept those who only knew executions and prison for 38 years", said Rouhani at the Monday rally.

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It was the culmination of a series of increasingly aggressive campaign attacks by Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, who in recent weeks has lashed out at conservatives over issues from freedom of speech to corruption and wealthy institutions that don't pay tax. He and other activists fear a runoff as the Iranian middle class and more liberal voters in Tehran so far seem unenthused.

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