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Only reformist candidate drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Resignation likely an attempt to boost moderate contender; announcement leaves 6 in race set for Friday, which is expected to be won by hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi

In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidate Mohsen Mehralizadeh speaks in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Elections are scheduled for June 18. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)
In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidate Mohsen Mehralizadeh speaks in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Elections are scheduled for June 18. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — The only reformist candidate in Iran’s upcoming presidential election dropped out of the race Wednesday on the last day of campaigning, state media reported, likely trying to boost the chances of a moderate candidate.

Mohsen Mehralizadeh, 64, resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which runs elections in the Islamic Republic, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Such dropouts are common in Iranian presidential elections in order to boost the chances of similar candidates.

Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who has been running as a moderate and as a stand-in for President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from running again.

Mehralizadeh served as governor in two Iranian provinces, as the vice president in charge of physical education under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and as a deputy in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which runs the country’s civilian nuclear program. He came in last place in Iran’s 2005 election, but found himself barred from running in 2015.

In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidates, from left, Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Alireza Zakani, Mohsen Rezaei, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Abdolnasser Hemmati, participate in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Elections are scheduled for June 18. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)

The announcement Wednesday leaves six candidates in the race. Polling and analysts indicate Hemmati lags behind the country’s hardline judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, the campaign’s front-runner long cultivated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other hardline candidates may drop out Wednesday to lend their support to Raisi.

Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program and confront the world, moderates who hold onto the status quo and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.

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