Iran election: Hardliner Qalibaf withdraws candidacy

Iran election: Hardliner Qalibaf withdraws candidacy

President Hassan Rouhani remains the narrow favorite for a second term thanks to Iran's re-engagement with the world after the lifting of sanctions, but has been hammered by hardline foes over his failure to rehabilitate the economy.

"I ask my supporters throughout the country to use all of their potential" to elect Raisi, Ghalibaf said in a statement carried by state media. "This great ideal can only be achieved by changing the status quo".

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf took the leadership in facing Rouhani's team and the two parties engaged in heated debates on television on Friday, trading mudslinging over economic issues and corruption, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported.

There was no immediate reaction from Rouhani.

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. Indeed, even if Rouhani gets another presidential term, it's already clear: The age of phony smiles between America and Iran is now over.

Qalibaf, 56, was running for president for the third time after being defeated in the 2005 and 2013 votes.

However, other sanctions which were subsequently slapped on Iran by the U.S. - and a more hostile administration under Donald Trump - appear to have given conservatives more significance.

With only a few days to the election, however, two of the candidates Qalibaf and Jahangiri, dropped out of the race in favour of their fellow-partisans, Raisi and Rouhani, respectively. For someone who served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, Rouhani was well aware of what he was saying: Any negotiations concerning the broad list of USA sanctions on Iran, whether in regard to Iran's missiles program or human rights, will need Khamenei's permission to proceed.

This week, pro-Raisi users launched a campaign titled "End of the week, Rouhani is gone", posting memes showing the Iranian president ready to leave with a packed bag and suitcase and videos of voters chanting the slogans at pro-Raisi rallies.

Until recently, Raisi, a former prosecutor general of Iran, was a relatively unknown political figure outside the eastern province of Khorasan-Razavi, where he is still the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, the wealthiest charity in the Muslim world and the organisation in charge of Iran's holiest shrine, the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad. Among the audience was Parvin Fahimi, the mother of Iranian protester Sohrab Arabi, who was killed in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential vote.

"A Rouhani victory would signal popular support for his policies of economic and political integration as well as moderation", according to Vakil.

However, Raisi's candidacy also has revived the controversy surrounding Iran's mass execution of thousands of prisoners in 1988, one of the darkest moments of the country's history since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and one still not acknowledged by its authorities. 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. His links to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps and hard-line ruling clerics could push undecided voters to the Rouhani camp.

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