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

Iran's presidential election essentially became a two-horse race again on May 15 when Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf withdrew from the contest to support fellow conservative Ebrahim Raisi, state television reported.

Jahangiri issued a statement on Tuesday, saying he made a decision to enter the presidential race at senior reformists' discretion and after consultation with President Rouhani to elucidate the country's situation "at the beginning and along the path that we have taken".

Iran will simultaneously hold its 12th presidential election and the 5th City and Village Councils Elections on May 19.

The election is being largely viewed as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal struck with world powers led by Rouhani's administration.

Today, with the United States continuing to maintain non-nuclear sanctions against Iran, thus hindering foreign investment in the country, President Hassan Rouhani is making a pitch, to the public and to Khamenei, to pursue additional talks with Washington to resolve outstanding issues.

Some conservatives had been unhappy that Qalibaf was standing again and risking a split in the anti-Rouhani vote.

"I will use all my power to support Rouhani and to support his programmes", Jahanigiri said in a statement, according to the official IRNA news agency. I am not surprised that a leading Iran hawk wants the hard-line Iranian candidate to win, because that result could and would be used to justify ratcheting up tensions with Iran. Qalibaf pulled in 4 million votes in the first round of balloting in 2005 and over 6 million in 2013.

The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, thrilling his supporters. Mr. Rouhani's popularity has gone down, with 74% of Iranians feeling their living standards have not improved following the nuclear deal two years ago. On the Principilist [hardline] spectrum, Qalibaf is more modernist than Raisi, who as a prosecutor and revolutionary judge sent hundreds of dissenters and political prisoners to their deaths. 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. It was Khamenei who previous year appointed Raisi, 56, to manage the Astan Quds Razavi, an Islamic charity that controls assets worth billions of dollars, as well as the Imam Reza shrine in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.

Vocativ has found that even though the conservative camp in Iran has been very enthusiastic in its embrace of social media, it lags behind the savviness of Rouhani's reformist camp.

Khamenei hasn't officially endorsed Raisi, but he has kept up criticism of Rouhani, which is at least marking out what Iran's Supreme Leader expects from a second-term Rouhani.

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