A prominent conservative candidate has dropped out of Iran’s presidential election to back a hardliner – in a bid to strengthen the fight to unseat President Hassan Rouhani by reducing the field to a two-man race.
The mayor of Tehran and former police chief, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, was one of the main contenders.
Justifying his decision to pull out, he called on his supporters to back Ebrahim Raisi, a Shi’ite cleric who studied under Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Qalibaf finished second in the last election four years ago but with only 16.5 percent of the vote.
The move reduces the risk of the anti-Rouhani vote being split.
Raisi and Qalibaf have both criticised the president’s economic record – amid rising unemployment – and policy of detente with the West.
Rouhani, who is seeking a second term, has told supporters he needs a stronger mandate to free up Iranian society.
The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the nuclear deal struck with world powers in 2015 under his leadership.
All Iranian presidents have won re-election since 1981 and Rouhani remains the favourite.