With a few days left for the presidential vote (May 19), Tehran mayor and a candidate in Iran's 12th presidential election, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, withdrew from the race and threw his support behind the Principlist candidate, Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi.
This has resulted in the race essentially being turned into a two-way contest between the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani and Hujjatul Islam Raeisi.There are three other candidates but most observers say the contest will be between the two leading contenders.
During the campaign, Rouhani's economic and political policies came under close scrutiny and intense criticism. Both Raeisi and Qalibaf said Rouhani had failed in addressing the needs of the rural poor.
In his withdrawal statement on May 15, Qalibaf said: "The day I decided to enter the election despite my personal interests, I was aware that I would face difficult and dangerous conditions."He said a fundamental decision must be made to forge unity within the revolutionary front [the Principlist front], adding, "In order to realize this great ideal, I ask all my popular supporters across the country to use all their potential and support for the success of our respectable brother, Hujjatul Islam Ibrahim Raeisi."
While thanking his supporters, Qalibaf was scathing in his criticism of the "four percent" affluent minority that he said was in control of the country's economic and political resources for many years. He said fundamental change to the status quo would only be possible through a fight against this affluent minority.
A former commander of the Revolutionary Guards air force, Qalibaf has served as Tehran Mayor for many years during which time he not only built a lot of infrastructure in Iran's largest city but also developed many parks. He had also contested the presidential race in 2005 and 2013.
Qalibaf called members of what he dubbed the affluent minority "pseudo-revolutionary opportunists" saying the fight against them had become highly costly. He argued: "This [opportunistic] current is gnawing at the roots of the [Islamic] Revolution like a termite".
The opportunists, Qalibaf said in his statement, "are not only at odds with the intellectual fundamentals of original revolutionaries, but also represent a [political] current whose material interests are at risk."
"Right now, the main goal of the country and the people is to change the status quo, and to that end, there is no other way than beginning a genuine fight free of slogans against aristocracy and opportunism in order to find a precise and comprehensive solution to the country's problems," Qalibaf said.
The people of Iran will go to the polls on Friday May 19 in what may turn out to be one of the most important presidential elections in the country's history after the revolution.The three other candidates on the list include First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri, member of Iran's Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, and former vice president, Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.
With the Principlist front coalescing around a single candidate--Hujjatul Islam Raeisi--his chances have increased substantially. However, nothing can be said with certainty in Iran's presidential elections. Iranians have a habit of springing surprises.