Qalibaf Exits Iran Election, Uniting Conservative Challenge

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf withdrew from this month’s election to support fellow conservative Ebrahim Raisi, the Tasnim news agency reported, a decision that polls show would effectively create a two-man race with incumbent Hassan Rouhani.

Qalibaf, the 55-year-old mayor of Tehran who lost to Rouhani in 2013, criticized Rouhani’s “inefficient and impotent” cabinet in a statement reported by the the conservative-leaning Tasnim reported on Monday. The most recent survey by the state-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency last week showed support for Rouhani at 42 percent, Raisi on 27 percent, while Qalibaf was at 25 percent.

The conservative candidates have sought to put Rouhani’s economic record at the center of the election race, accusing him in particular of failing to ensure that benefits from the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers were passed on to ordinary Iranians. A conservative victory on May 19 could also set relations with the Trump White House -- which has called the agreement a “disaster” -- and its Sunni Gulf Arab allies off on a more confrontational path. All of the candidates, though, have indicated they’ll respect the accord.

Following Qalibaf’s withdrawal, there are five candidates remaining.