RFL/RE – One of two reformists approved to run in Iran’s June 18 presidential election has withdrawn his candidacy.
Iranian media report that Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a 64-year-old former vice president, withdrew on June 16 — the last day of the election campaign.
He was one of only two reformists permitted to run in the election to replace President Hassan Rohani, who has served the maximum two consecutive terms.
Mehralizadeh’s withdrawal leaves six candidates in a race that is widely expected to be won by ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi, seen as close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be the front-runner after the disqualification of several candidates considered as viable challengers.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reports that Mehralizadeh resigned in a letter sent to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which runs the country’s elections.
A spokesman for Mehralizadeh’s campaign said an official statement would be issued later on June 16.
According to the ISPA polling institute, Mehralizadeh was trailing in pre-election opinion polls.
Those polls showed him as the only candidate expected to win less than 1 percent of the vote.
Mehralizadeh’s withdrawal is likely to boost the chances of the other candidate still in the race who is considered a reformist — 66-year-old former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati.
Opinion polls suggest voter turnout could be less than the record low of 57 percent registered in parliamentary elections in February 2020.
Thousands of candidates, many of them moderates and reformists, were barred from running in that election.
Iran’s presidential election comes amid talks between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
It also comes against a backdrop of popular discontent about a severe economic and social crisis in the sanctions-hit country.
The coronavirus pandemic also appears to be contributing to voter apathy.