Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf quit Iran’s presidential race yesterday and said he would back hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in May 19’s vote.
Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief, was one of the main conservative challengers to President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking a second term.
“I should take an important decision to keep the unity of revolutionary forces,” Qalibaf said in a statement published in state media.
“I ask all my supporters around the country to use all their capacity to help my brother, Mr Ebrahim Raisi, win the election.”
Raisi’s popularity has risen steadily in recent weeks and Qalibaf’s decision should give him a last-minute boost against Rouhani, a pragmatist who has eased Iran’s international isolation but failed to spur a sluggish economy.
Qalibaf’s allies had argued that he had more recognition in the capital Tehran and among youngvoters, and offered a more coherent economic plan than some other conservative candidates.
He was left with no option but to quit the race, however, when main conservative parties and clerical bodies threw their support behind Raisi, a jurist and cleric who studied at the feet of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, causing delight among his supporters. The crowd started chanting “Qalibaf, Thank you!” according to videos released on social media.
“I am also very thankful,” Raisi replied to the crowd. “He did a revolutionary act.”
Qalibaf finished second in the last election four years ago with 16.5 percent of the vote. Rouhani won just over 50 percent, averting a second round.
Some conservatives had been unhappy that Qalibaf was standing again and risking a split in the anti-Rouhani vote.