A conservative candidate dropped out of Iran’s presidential election on Monday to back a hard-liner, state television reported, narrowing the field of those hoping to unseat moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
The report said Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf made the decision to boost the chances of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Qalibaf’s decision brings the number of candidates competing in Friday’s election to five, though more may drop out in the coming days to solidify support for other candidates.
This election marked Qalibaf’s third presidential campaign, having previously lost running to the left of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and to the right of Rouhani in 2013.
Also, many residents in the country’s capital had been angry at Qalibaf and Tehran authorities after a massive January fire at a historic high-rise caused the building to collapse, killing 26 people, including 16 firefighters.
Raisi, a former attorney general, serves as the head of the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran. Qalibaf’s dropping out may serve to get him more votes in his challenge to Rouhani.
The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal struck with world powers shepherded by Rouhani’s administration. That deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.
Rouhani remains the favorite as every Iranian president since 1981, when Khamenei himself took the presidency, has won re-election.
However, most Iranians have yet to see the benefits of the nuclear deal. 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.