Two Hardline Candidates Withdraw From Iranian Presidential Race

Two hardline candidates withdrew their bids for the presidency on Thursday, the day before Iran’s election. They called for unity among supporters of the country’s Islamic revolution, state media reported.

Friday’s tightly controlled election follows the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month. The outcome is likely to influence the succession of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top decision-maker in the Islamic Republic.

Tehran’s mayor Alireza Zakani and the head of the Martyrs’ Foundation Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi withdrew from the race, according to state media. They were expected to win just 1.7% and 2% of votes respectively, according to a poll conducted by the Iran Students Polling Centre from June 22-23.

Their departure leaves four candidates in the race. Zakani urged the two most prominent hardliners to join forces to prevent moderate Masoud Pezeshkian from winning.

“I call upon Saeed Jalili and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf to unite and not leave the demands of the revolutionary forces unanswered,” Zakani wrote on X, referring to the former nuclear negotiator and his hardline rival, parliament speaker and former head of the powerful Revolutionary Guards.

Khamenei, now 85, has ensured candidates sharing his hardline views dominate the presidential contest. Iran’s president is traditionally closely involved in the process of choosing the supreme leader.

The elections are taking place at a sensitive time. Tensions are escalating over the Gaza conflict, the West is pressuring Tehran to scale back its nuclear plans, and domestic dissent is growing over political, social, and economic crises.

Pezeshkian, a former health minister, has the endorsement of Iran’s politically-sidelined reformist camp that advocates d├ętente with the West, but his chances are unclear, with dissidents in and outside Iran calling for an election boycott.

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