UPDATE 1040 GMT: Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has suddenly pulled out of the race, hoping to boost hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi against centrist President Hassan Rouhani.
Qalibaf had risen in the polls to take second place behind Rouhani amid Raisi’s lackluster campaign, but he endorsed the cleric in his withdrawal announcement.
Qalibaf’s decision increases the prospect of a first-round victory for either Rouhani or Raisi on May 19.
Four days before Iran’s Presidential election, incumbent Hassan Rouhani has declared success with foreign investment and promised low-income housing.
With the economy the main issue in the campaign, the Rouhani Government proclaimed on Sunday that it has attracted more than $11 billion in foreign investment amid implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal, citing areas such as North Khorasan, Isfahan, and Sistan and Baluchestan as well as the capital Tehran.
Rouhani’s main opponents, cleric Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, claim that the Government has been unsuccessful in the economic recovery. Unemployment is still 12.7%, and higher among the young, and the foreign investment has been limited by ongoing US sanctions, internal disputes, and a cumbersome system in areas such as finance and banking.
Raisi has pledged another 1 million jobs per years, while Qalibaf has declared that he will bring 5 million during a 4-year Presidential term.
The Government countered on Monday with a plan for widespread social housing. The Urban Development Ministry will provide land with infrastructure such as water, electricity, and gas and will support developers who build new housing estates. Subsidies will be provided to low-income households to make rentals affordable.
Rouhani leads in the latest polls, but is at 43% to 45%, short of a first-round majority. Raisi and Qalibaf split almost of the remaining vote, with three other candidates receiving only marginal support.
The pattern of turnout is likely to be critical in determining whether Rouhani faces a runoff with the second-place finisher. The President is expected to do well in better-off areas of Tehran and other cities, especially among women voters, but Raisi and Qalibaf are hoping for strong performances among lower-income voters in cities and in rural areas.
TOP PHOTO: Rouhani supporters at a campaign rally in Tehran, May 13, 2017