May 16, 2017
Tehran’s mayor has dropped out of Iran’s presidential election, allowing hardliners to a coalesce around a powerful conservative in the fight against the reformist-backed incumbent, Hassan Rouhani.
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.
Raisi has been touted as a frontrunner to succeed the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A presidential win would pave the way for a possible succession, while a defeat could scupper his chances.
“What is important now and vital is preserving the interests of the people, the country and the revolution and this cannot be achieved in any way other than a change in the current situation,” Ghalibaf said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
“We should make a fundamental decision to create unity in the revolution’s front and I call upon all my supporters across the country to come out in support of my esteemed brother Hujjat al-Islam Ebrahim Raisi and make him succeed in forming the government of work and dignity.”
Ghalibaf took just over 6m votes in the 2013 presidential election, which was won in the first round by Rouhani with 18.6m votes and 50.71% of the vote share. Under the Iranian system, candidates need an absolute majority of votes to win. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in the first round, the top two candidates go to a second-round run-off.
In the absence of credible polling in Iran, it is difficult to gauge Raisi’s popularity across Iran, particularly given that he has not run for presidency before.
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.
Raisi had barely reached adulthood when the 1979 Islamic Revolution took place, but rose quickly through the ranks of Iran’s religious institutions. In the summer of 1988, he was one of the four sharia judges who ordered the mass execution of leftists and dissidents.
Raisi’s human rights record has troubled many. “A man who should be on trial for the most heinous crime in contemporary Iranian history, is instead seeking the presidency,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Allowing him to run for president is yet another grievous wound for the families who unjustly lost their loved ones in 1988.”
Rouhani alluded to this controversy during a campaign rally recently, saying: “The people of Iran will announce in this election that they don’t accept those who only knew executions and prison for 38 years.”
Friday’s presidential elections are the first since 2015’s landmark nuclear agreement, under which Tehran agreed to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of sanctions. The elections are seen in part as a test of Iran’s economic progress under Rouhani since 2015.
Rouhani has stabilised the Iranian economy and brought down inflation but unemployment is high and his opponents have questioned whether his administration has done enough to bring tangible economic benefits to the country.
He has been pinning his hopes on the estimated 20 million people who are undecided or do not usually vote. His campaign has been boosted in recent days by endorsements from influential political and cultural figures.
On Sunday, Iran’s double Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi came out in support of Rouhani, who is also being backed by the leader of the country’s Sunni minority.
Five candidates remain for Friday’s election, though Rouhani’s vice-president, Eshaq Jahangiri, is also expected to drop out imminently in favour of his boss.