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

Iran's presidential election became a two-man race Tuesday when the country's incumbent vice president and Tehran's mayor dropped out ahead of Friday's vote.

"What is important and vital is to maintain the interests of the people, the country and (the Islamic) Revolution", Qalibaf said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. A Rouhani win would affirm and strengthen the nuclear deal, and it makes continued Iranian compliance more likely.

"At the current juncture, I consider supporting Rouhani and a firm vote for him as support for the powerful Iranian nation, which is entitled to pin its hope on [having] a better future", Jahangiri said.

"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). The others are First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri at 3%, former Culture Minister Mostafa Mirsalim at 3%, and former Mines and Industries Minister Mostafa Hashemi-Taba at 2%.

"Every president since the revolution has won re-election (i.e. enjoyed sufficient popular and deep state support) for a second term".

Mayor of Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a figure in the principlist political faction who struggled to drum up support for his presidential campaign by hammering Rouhani, chose to quit the race on Monday in favor of Raeisi.

However, Qalibaf, a 55-year-old former Republic Guard air force commander and police chief, managed to turn the May 19 election into a three-way contest with a performance that had him only slightly trailing Raisi in the opinion polls. It was Khamenei who past 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.

"Some issues can not be resolved if the government has only 51 percent of votes", Rouhani said. It was the urgency of this political balance, both domestically and internationally, that provided the raison d'être of Mr. Rouhani's victory in 2013. Rouhani supporters chanted his name and the name of Mir Hossein Mousavi, another reformist leader under house arrest, at rallies nationwide.

The main challenger Raisi is a close ally and protege of Khamenei, and was one of four Islamic judges who ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

That past has anxious moderates and reformists in Iran.

"A two-way race between Rouhani and Raisi will polarize society and mobilize the electorate", Ali Vaez, a senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said by phone.

"There's nothing that....brings out young, liberal voters like a hard-line conservative, which Raisi is", Kupchan said.

Vanessa Coleman