Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the only reformist candidate approved to participate in this week's Iranian presidential election, has withdrawn from the race leaving former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati as the sole non-conservative on the ballot.
Mehralizadeh, who served as vice-president during former president Mohammad Khatami's second term in 2001-05, announced his withdrawal in a letter to the ministry of interior in the early hours of today. He did not explicitly say why he pulled out, although his move came one day after Hadi Khamenei — a prominent reformist cleric and brother of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — called on either Mehralizadeh or Hemmati to drop out of the race in support of the other.
"I ask you… to form an alliance with each other, so that with the presence of one of you in the competition, you can sow the seeds of hope in the hearts of the supporters more than before," Khamenei said.
Mehralizadeh has yet to publicly back Hemmati, but with just two days until voting begins and with continued signs of bias within the political establishment towards the heavy favorite, chief justice Ebrahim Raisi, the office is his to lose. Latest polls from state-linked Iranian Students Polling Agency show Raisi with 61pc of the vote, well ahead of his closest challenger Mohsen Rezaei, another conservative, with 8pc.
If, as widely expected, at least one of the three remaining conservative candidates — former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, first deputy speaker of parliament Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi and former member of parliament Alireza Zakani — withdraw from the race, that will only strengthen Raisi's chances.
Zakani on 14 June said that he would drop out in support of Raisi, but has yet to formally do so.
Campaigning began on 28 May and will continue until 24 hours before the start of voting on 18 June. If no candidate secures at least 50.1pc of the vote, the two highest polling candidates will compete in a runoff on 25 June.