Iran Moderates Rally Round Rouhani to Oppose Hardliners

A reformist candidate has dropped out of Iran's presidential election to back President Hassan Rouhani in a widely expected move that will strengthen the incumbent's campaign against a hard-liner.

With Qalibaf dropping out, there are now five candidates contesting, though others may choose to drop out in the coming days.

Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the late founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini, has, in a video message, announced his support for Rouhani, expressing the hope that on May 19, Iranians would decide their fate for the coming years and shape their future.

The two candidates were the top conservative challengers to President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist whose government negotiated a 2015 deal with world powers to rein in Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting global sanctions. The deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions. A Rouhani win could signal that Iran would stick with its end of the nuclear deal, while a conservative candidate could disrupt the agreement. 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.

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 said those forces were telling voters they should fear the scenario of Rouhani's reelection, because the outgoing president plans to cut off all financial aids meant to citizens.

While it was clear that US President Barack Obama had sought an opening with Iran - he shook hands with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif behind closed doors in New York - Iran's leadership, in particular the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never trusted the opposing side enough to allow discussions to go beyond the nuclear file. 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.

As the race between the two candidates tightens, the support of the country's Kurds and Sunnis, who constitute around 20 percent of the Iranian population, could have a determining impact on the outcome of the elections.

Abrams notably doesn't have much to say about the nuclear deal with Iran.

But Iranians do not exclusively blame Rouhani for the economic situation.

"To me, supporting Dr. Rouhani and voting for him is equal to supporting the mighty Iranian nation", Jahangiri said.

Over 56 million Iranians are eligible for balloting on decisive Friday. Undoubtedly, with Mr. Trump, the Iranian hardliners have tried to capitalise their power while seeking to reunite under one consensus standard-bearer - none other than Ebrahim Raisi.

Mohammad Taghi Karroubi said the family was confident that the interior ministry would let his father vote on Friday.

Rumors about Khamenei's health have swirled for years, and Raisi's appointment appeared to signal confidence in the younger cleric and that he was being groomed for Iran's most powerful post.