Tehran's mayor drops out of Iran election to back hard-liner

Tehran's mayor drops out of Iran election to back hard-liner

Ghalibaf's withdrawal "was likely an orchestrated move to shore up support behind a single principlist candidate, and pose a potent challenge to Rouhani", said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

In a blistering televised election debate on Friday, Rouhani cast his hardline clerical foes as power-hungry pawns of Iran's security forces, seeking to energise voters disillusioned by a sluggish economy and the slow pace of social reform.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin walls in Moscow, Russia, March 28, 2017.

The elections are being watched by foreign and regional powers.

Raisi called Qalibaf's decision "revolutionary", the conservative news agency Tasnim reported the cleric as saying on Monday.

A former police chief and member of the Revolutionary Guards, he has played on his tough-guy image in the past, but this year targeted his campaign against the wealthy elite, who he dubbed the "four-per-centers".

More news: Woman charged with chasing US Rep. David Kustoff

It is not the first time during the election campaign that Rouhani has clashed with Raisi.

"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. It is increasingly hard for Rouhani to sell the deal to voters now given Trump's rhetoric. Opponents have accused the president of failing to ensure that ordinary Iranians benefited from the 2015 nuclear deal, while indicating they'll respect the accord.

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 55, dropped out of the race to boost the chances of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who is believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "In Tehran, his votes will go mainly to Rouhani but outside Tehran his supporters will vote for Raisi. After all you are a judge, your hands are open", Rouhani said. "It's going to be tricky for Rouhani to position himself in the center to gain the votes that were going to go to Qalibaf".

Although nuclear sanctions on Tehran have been removed following the implementation of the JCPOA last January, most of leading worldwide banks still appear reluctant to do business with Iran over concerns of running afoul of United States regulations. The campaign has begun shedding light at popular gatherings, held in various parts of the capital, on the youth demands such as unemployment and economic recession as well as narrowing the gulf between the rich and the poor.

"The same people who promised that the nuclear deal would enable Congress to push back against Iran-literally the very same people-are now mobilizing to prevent any pressure against Iran over its threats to us and our allies", the adviser told TWS.

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