Two candidates drop out of Iran presidential election, due to take place Friday amid voter apathy

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two candidates in Iran’s presidential election withdrew from the race as the country on Thursday prepared for the upcoming vote, an effort by hard-liners to coalesce around a unity candidate in the polls to replace the late President Ebrahim Raisi.

Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, 53, dropped his candidacy and urged other candidates to do the same “so that the front of the revolution will be strengthened,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported late Wednesday night.

Ghazizadeh Hashemi served as one of Raisi’s vice presidents and as the head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs. He ran in the 2021 presidential election and received some 1 million votes, coming in last place.

On Thursday, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani also withdrew, as he did previously in the 2021 election in which Raisi was voted into office.

Zakani said he withdrew to “block the formation of a third administration” of former President Hassan Rouhani, a reference to reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian.

Pezeshkian is running with the support of former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under Rouhani negotiated and eventually struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The deal later collapsed and Iran has since stepped up enriching uranium to near weapons-grade levels.

Such withdrawals are common in the final hours of an Iranian presidential election — particularly in the last 24 hours before the vote is held, when campaigns enter a mandatory quiet period without rallies.

Voters go to the polls on Friday.

The two withdrawals leave four other candidates still in the race, which analysts broadly see as a three-way contest.

Two hard-liners, former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, are fighting over the same bloc, experts say. Then there’s Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon who has sought to associate himself with Rouhani and other reformist figures like former President Mohammad Khatami and those who led the 2009 Green Movement protest.

There had been some speculation that either Jalili or Qalibaf could withdraw in order to strengthen hard-liners’ hands in the election. But Qalibaf repeatedly signaled he would remain in the race, while Jalili late Thursday did the same.

“Now that I have seen your enthusiasm, I am more determined than ever to shoulder the responsibility,” he wrote in a message posted to the social platform X. “Now is not the time to delay. There is no time to hesitate.”

With both of them remaining in the race, that raises the possibility of a runoff election as a candidate must get 50% of the vote to take the presidency.

Iran’s theocracy under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has maintained its stance of not approving women or anyone urging radical change to the country’s government for the ballot. However, Khamenei in recent days has called for a “maximum” turnout in the vote, while also issuing a veiling warning to Pezeshkian and his allies about relying on the United States.

Widespread public apathy has descended in the Iranian capital over the election, coming after a May helicopter crash that killed Raisi.

After the promise nearly a decade ago of Tehran’s nuclear deal opening up Iran to the rest of the world, Iranians broadly face crushing economic conditions and a far more uncertain Middle East that already has seen the Islamic Republic directly attack Israel for the first time. Iran also now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and has enough of it to produce several nuclear weapons if it choses.

The limited options in the election, as well as widespread discontent over Iran’s ongoing crackdown on women over the mandatory headscarf, has some saying they won’t vote.

“I did not watch any of the debates since I have no plan to vote,” said Fatemeh Jazayeri, a 27-year-old unemployed woman with a master’s degree. “I voted for Rouhani seven years ago, but he failed to deliver his promises for a better economy. Any promise by any candidates will remain on paper only.”

Worshippers in Tehran at Friday prayers in recent weeks, typically more conservative than others in the city, appeared more willing to vote.

Mahmoud Seyedi, a 46-year-old shopkeeper, said he and his wife, alongside two young daughters, will vote,

“My wife and I have decided to vote for Qalibaf since he knows how to solve problems of the country because of years of experience, but my daughters are thinking about Jalili, too,” he said. “By the way, voting is a duty for us.”

Parivash Emami, 49, who was also at prayers, said she hoped Qalibaf could help Iran overcome its problems.

“Qalibaf knows details of problems, the rest are either critics or promise to solve problems without offering any program,” Emami said.


Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran.

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