TEHRAN, Iran — Before Friday's presidential election, moderates and reformists in Iran are coalescing behind Hasan Rowhani, a cleric and former nuclear negotiator, as their best hope of staving off a field of divided conservatives, who had been seen as having the upper hand.
Among those endorsing Rowhani are two former presidents, including Mohammad Khatami, who threw his support behind the candidate on Tuesday after the withdrawal of reformist Mohammad Reza Araf, who had served as Khatami's vice president during his first term. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose presidential bid was thwarted by the clerical body tasked with vetting candidates, also has endorsed Rowhani.
The withdrawal of Araf, a Stanford-educated engineer, added to a growing sense of hope within Rowhani's campaign, which includes reformists and moderates and is banking on winning the votes of Iranians tired of their country's diplomatic and economic isolation.
"It was never about me or Dr. Araf," Rowhani said in a statement thanking Araf. "It has always been about our shared goals."
The field has dwindled to six candidates, with Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a hard-line former speaker of parliament, also exiting. The candidates include three prominent conservatives. Haddad-Adel did not endorse any of them, underscoring the divisions among the conservatives.
Under the Iranian system, if no candidate gets a majority in the first round, then the top two have a runoff.
Rowhani is seen by many Iranians as a unifier with a track record of working well with different factions. He is also considered one of the Islamic republic's most seasoned foreign policy officials, and his supporters point to the relative success that Iran enjoyed when he led the nuclear negotiations team during Khatami's presidency.