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Tehran mayor Qalibaf quits presidential race, backs hardliner Raisi

Tehran mayor Qalibaf quits presidential race, backs hardliner Raisi”

Iranian presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf withdrew Monday from the race to unseat the country's moderate leader in a move to unite conservatives behind fellow hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi in the homestretch for Friday's election.

Rivals of President Hassan Rouhani in the May 19 poll have renewed accusations of corruption and mismanagement against him during the last of three televised debates.

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.

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The news Qalibaf was standing down broke as Raisi was delivering a speech in Shiraz, thrilling his supporters.

The list included incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, the Tehran Mayor, member of Iran's Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, Raeisi, who is a former deputy judiciary chief, and former vice president, Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.

"In this election, either Rouhani [will win], or if Raisi wins, he won't be in office just for four years, he will be there for 40 years", he said. It was after these humiliating experiences that the regime resorted to "engineering" the elections in favour of its candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2005 and 2009.

The president is viewed as the "moderate" choice and many see the election as something of a referendum on the policies that led to a landmark deal with worldwide powers that saw Tehran curb its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief.

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Rouhani's deal to lift sanctions won the cautious backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Khamenei and his loyalists criticise its failure to boost the economy.

"The leverage of my power does not possess some things, but some things will be possible with a vote of more than 51 percent", he said during a campaign stop in western Iran.

He lost to Rouhani during the presidential election of 2013. His links to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps and hard-line ruling clerics could push undecided voters to the Rouhani camp. "In Tehran, his votes will go mainly to Rouhani but outside Tehran his supporters will vote for Raisi", said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

Khoshcheshm said that Rouhani was expected to have "a hard job" in the upcoming election. The campaign has begun shedding light at popular gatherings, held in various parts of the capital, on the youth demands such as unemployment and economic recession as well as narrowing the gulf between the rich and the poor.

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It was the culmination of a series of increasingly aggressive campaign attacks by Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, who in recent weeks has lashed out at conservatives over issues from freedom of speech to corruption and wealthy institutions that don't pay tax.

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