Published: Tue, May 16, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Rivals unite to oust Rouhani as Iran election enters final days

If conservative voters unite behind Raisi, they could tip an election that just a few weeks ago, surveys suggested, was heading toward a straightforward victory for Rouhani.

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.

Mr Qalibaf was savaged in a television debate last week, but his decision to withdraw from the race was also likely to have been motivated by a desire within the conservative or "principlist" faction in the regime to present a united front against Mr Rouhani.

"However, I don't think there will be a significant impact as Qalibaf got [just] six million votes in 2013", he said.

The presidential election is set to take place on Friday, May 19.

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His close association with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would attract the support of conservatives across Iran.

From now on, Qalibaf will throw his weight behind Raisi, the senior member added, describing the withdrawal as a "strong coalition" against the incumbent administration.

According to local media reports, the decision was made after the central council of the Popular Forces of the Islamic Revolution held a meeting to assess the situation ahead of Friday's election, The Tehran Times reported.

Referring to the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its Persian acronym, BARJAM, Rouhani said, "We established a bridge between Iran and the world with BARJAM".

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 worldwide isolation though failed to spur a sluggish economy.

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Political analyst Hamid Farahvashian told Reuters he expects Qalibaf's votes will be divided between Rouhani and Raisi.

Raisi, a cleric and former attorney general, serves as the head of the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of business and endowments in Iran.

Rumors about Khamenei's health have swirled for years, and Raisi's appointment appeared to signal confidence in the younger cleric and that he was being groomed for Iran's most powerful post.

This is why conservatives will most probably allow Rouhani to lead the country for four more years.

Khamenei, Iran's final arbiter on all matters of state, intervened last week as the campaigns became more confrontational, calling on candidates to avoid "immoral" outbursts that could damage the nation. That deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

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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.

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