Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran and a former head of the police, quit today and urged his supporters to vote on Friday for an even more conservative figure, Ebrahim Raisi, until recently the attorney-general.
For his part, Rouhani said on Sunday during a speech delivered from Isfahan's historic Naqsh-e Jahan square, that in case he won the presidential elections, he plans to cooperate with the global community and seek to lift the non-nuclear sanctions imposed on Iran, in a hint that the Iranian president plans to open a direct dialogue with the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Iran's President Rouhani is facing a tough re-election battle in a two-horse race with a hardline cleric after the third main candidate dropped out.
Although he has long cast himself as an insider and pragmatist rather than a gung-ho reformer, he seems to have shed that more moderate image in recent days, seeking to energise voters who want less confrontation overseas and more freedom at home. It also suggests that Iran's election will be decided in the first round, which requires the victor to get over 50 percent of the total vote.
"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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Although Rouhani was expected to easily secure a second term, "it is highly likely that Ghalibaf's voters will flock to Raisi", Taleblu said. A survey by the state-affiliated Iranian Students Polling Agency last week showed the potential implications: support for Rouhani was at 42 percent, with Raisi on 27 percent and Qalibaf at 25 percent.
Although nuclear sanctions on Tehran have been removed following the implementation of the JCPOA last January, most of leading global banks still appear reluctant to do business with Iran over concerns of running afoul of USA regulations. It is increasingly hard for Rouhani to sell the deal to voters now given Trump's rhetoric. Rouhani added that tourism in 2013, before the deal lifted some sanctions, was less than that recorded in April this year.
During the previous polls in June 2013, President Rouhani garnered 50.7 percent of a total of over 36 million votes.
Khoshcheshm said that Rouhani was expected to have "a hard job" in the upcoming election.
But Rohani's influence is limited and he has less power than Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The elections are seen in part as a test of Iran's economic progress under Rouhani since 2015. Raisi has been campaigning on that, proposing cash payments for the poor that proved popular in the past under Ahmadinejad. The US announced sanctions against companies and individuals suspected of being involved in Iran's nuclear programme, and suggested further pressure to come.