Imam Khomeini's Grandson Calls on Iranians to Back Rouhani

Over 56 million Iranians are eligible electorates for the May 19 election.

His decision comes one day after conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf withdrew from the race, paving the way for a head-to-head battle between Rouhani and hardline cleric and jurist Ebrahim Raisi.

While Raisi has vowed to respect the 2015 nuclear deal that Rouhani secured to end Iran's economic isolation, a government led by him would likely alarm global investors considering doing business in the Islamic Republic.

Iran's relations with the USA, which improved under Rouhani and led to the nuclear deal and the lifting of some sanctions, have also hung over the campaigning.

For the past several months the ultra-conservative camp has been vocal in its criticism of Mr. Rouhani's agenda, dismissing his economic and political outreach to the West as being naive and unsafe for the ideological future of the Iranian system.

That held true in 1997 with the election of reformer Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, who threw his support Monday behind Rouhani. At a campaign appearance in the northwestern city of Zanjan on Tuesday, Rouhani also upbraided the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran's elite and most powerful military and security force, suggesting it was drumming up support for Raisi even though he did not directly name the group. "The fact is that Raisi is not a very well-known person in Iran, so I think that Rouhani will win", she said.

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"We will use Qalibaf's experiences and his managerial capabilities in the next government", Tasnim news agency quoted Raisi as saying on Monday. Qalibaf pulled in 4 million votes in the first round of balloting in 2005 and over 6 million in 2013.

In the wake of Qalibaf's withdrawal, Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told Bloomberg that it's not a given that most Qalibaf supporters will automatically switch to Raisi. On the Principilist [hardline] spectrum, Qalibaf is more modernist than Raisi, who as a prosecutor and revolutionary judge sent hundreds of dissenters and political prisoners to their deaths.

Raisi, a former attorney general, serves as the head of the Imam Reza charity foundation, which manages a vast conglomerate of businesses and endowments in Iran. Raisi has been campaigning on that, proposing cash payments for the poor that proved popular in the past under Ahmadinejad.

A high turnout could also boost the chances of Rouhani, who was swept to power in 2013 on promises to reduce Iran's worldwide isolation and grant more freedoms at home.

If both Ghalibaf and Raisi stay in the race, the already small hard-line base will split their votes among both candidates in the first round, possibly giving Rouhani an easy lead.

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