Iran election: Jahangiri quits, backs Rouhani

The CISSM survey showed that at the end of 2016, a majority of Iranians supported the nuclear deal, championed by Rouhani - though that number had declined since August 2015, from 76 percent to 55 percent.

But Iranians do not exclusively blame Rouhani for the economic situation.

If that expectation is met, then voters will be deciding whether Rouhani's policy of greater engagement with the West continues, or whether it could stall under Raisi if the conservative cleric becomes president. "This great ideal can only be achieved by changing the status quo".

Iran's 12th presidential election candidate, Es'haq Jahangiri (C) attends a gathering of his supporters in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz.

"Not all of Qalibaf's supporters will move to Raisi, but he does provide some capacity for conservatives to unite", said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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There was no immediate reaction from Rouhani. Tensions between moderate and hardline political factions have escalated in the run-up to Friday's election as top candidates have resorted to unusually caustic criticism of each other, a rarity in Iranian political discourse.

There are five candidates remaining following Qalibaf's withdrawal, including Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, who supports Rouhani and whose candidacy has been aimed at uniting forces behind him, and fellow reformer Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a former industry minister. Qalibaf pulled in 4 million votes in the first round of balloting in 2005 and over 6 million in 2013. Ghalibaf is the mayor of Tehran, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard, and the former head of the Iranian police. It is rare for Iranian officials to publicly discuss political irregularities, particularly before elections.

Iranian president and presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani attends a campaign rally in the capital Tehran on May 13, 2017. Mr. Rouhani's popularity has gone down, with 74% of Iranians feeling their living standards have not improved following the nuclear deal two years ago. Raisi has been campaigning on that, proposing cash payments for the poor that proved popular in the past under Ahmadinejad.

Rumors about Khamenei's health have swirled for years, and Raisi's appointment appeared to signal confidence in the younger cleric and that he was being groomed for Iran's most powerful post. He already has the support of two major clerical bodies that declined to endorse anyone in the last presidential election. Qalibaf's endorsement may push those so far unexcited by the election into voting for Rouhani, said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group.

Raisi is believed to be Rouhani's main rival in the race but it's not clear if Raisi will be unable to unseat him.

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