Boost for Rouhani's hardline opponent in Iranian election

Iran nuclear weapons

Tehran Mayor Mohamad Baqer Qalibaf on Monday announced his withdrawal from the upcoming Iranian presidential election while expressing his support to conservative candidate, cleric Ebrahim Raisi.

"The move comes with a view to preserving the revolution's front and its values", he added.

During his election campaign in 2013 Rouhani called for a greater realisation of rights for minorities, and his government has implemented legislation permitting students in Iranian Kurdistan to study the Kurdish language at school, with some universities also set to introduce further studies in Kurdish.

The immediate result of the rising tension now between the U.S. and Iran is that it undermines Iranian moderates, including Rouhani's government, which put all their political capital in the deal in the lead up to this month's election.

Rouhani has been redoubling efforts this week in order to appeal to "grey" voters, the estimated 20 million Iranians who do not usually vote. Among the audience was Parvin Fahimi, the mother of Iranian protester Sohrab Arabi, who was killed in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential vote.

Iran's reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami on Sunday endorsed President Hassan Rouhani in a video message, calling on voters to give him another term in this week's election.

Conservative candidate Ibrahim Raisi is considered the strongest opponent to Rouhani in the current election. Qalibaf finished second in the last election four years ago but with only 16.5 percent of the vote. Khatami, who is facing restrictions in his movements and activities, has a huge influence among the Iranian electorate and his backing was crucial in Rouhani's victory in 2013.

This election will actually be a referendum on Hassan Rouhani's nuclear deal.

This time around, establishment conservative hardliners who want to unseat Rouhani are mainly placing their trust in Ebrahim Raisi, a jurist and Shia cleric who studied at the feet of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "In Tehran, his votes will go mainly to Rouhani but outside Tehran his supporters will vote for Raisi", said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

"It's definitely more hard for Rouhani now", said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

In the ongoing presidential campaign, Rouhani said he would focus on tackling unemployment and stimulate production. On Friday, Rouhani accused his hardline clerical foes of being power-hungry pawns of Iran's security forces. 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.

But it is also arguable that the only chance to diffuse the tension between the West and Iran in the long term is for the moderates to stay in power.

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