While activists abroad persist in their calls for change within Iran, there are no visible signs inside the country of those who led the protests. There are also growing doubts about whether reformers in the mold of former president Mohammad Khatami might reemerge to take part in the coming election.
“Iranians are the type of people that need leadership, and right now those opposed to the current government have no one to look to for guidance,” said a 26-year-old linguist who was a graduate student in 2009 and took part in the protests.
Like others interviewed for this article, the linguist spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing government reprisal for talking with a U.S. newspaper about a sensitive subject.
The elections are June 14, but there are few indications of the excitement and anticipation for change that animated the prior contest and fueled the months of protests that followed as hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to challenge what they said was Ahmadinejad’s rigged victory.
In some ways, it is Ahmadinejad who is now fighting the clerical establishment, but the election battle is shaping up along a fairly narrow spectrum, with little indication thus far of candidates who might rattle conservative leaders.
Iran’s campaigns are compact and have a history of becoming volatile in their final weeks, with candidates joining the fray late and making trips around the country in a period that lasts just over a month.
In the months leading up to the 2009 contest, there was little interest in the polls until a week before the election, when a series of live televised debates— in which candidates accused one another of fraud and financial corruption — opened the floodgates for Iranians to discuss issues that had long been taboo, paving the way for the protest movement that was mostly spontaneous and never truly coalesced around a set of ideals, according to some who took part.
The four candidates in that election were representative of the Islamic republic’s ruling establishment, although their allegiances varied wildly.
Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, had the support of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, as well as key clerics, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The most conservative candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, had commanded the Revolutionary Guard for 16 years, including throughout the Iran-Iraq War.