Tehran's conservative mayor dropped out of Iran's presidential election on Monday to back a hard-liner believed to be close to the country's supreme leader, consolidating the opposition aiming to unseat moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
Over 56 million Iranians are eligible electorates for the May 19 election.
The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, thrilling his supporters. "I ask all my supporters around the country to use all their capacity to help my brother, Mr Ebrahim Raisi, win the election".
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. A survey by the state-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency last week showed the potential implications: support for Rouhani was at 42 percent, with Raisi on 27 percent and Qalibaf at 25 percent.
"It is now your turn to renew your vote for our dear Rouhani in order to strengthen hope for a better future", he said.
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The nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers ended a decadeslong crisis that removed sanctions on almost 80 million Iranians and potentially averted another military confrontation in the Middle East involving the United States. Rouhani, who pledged to reduce Iran's global isolation and grant more freedoms at home, averted a second round by winning just over 50 percent.
"Some issues can not be resolved if the government has only 51 percent of votes", Rouhani said.
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.
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.
In recent weeks, Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, has lashed out at the conservatives over issues from freedom of speech to corruption and wealthy institutions that don't pay tax.
Qalibaf's allies had argued that he had more recognition in the capital Tehran and among young voters, and offered a more coherent economic plan than some other conservative candidates.
Rohani's main rival is hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who has accused the president of favoring the rich.
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