Ahmadinejad's Health Becomes Political Issue in Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reportedly ill because of exhaustion. Opponents say it is a political ploy.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reportedly ill because of exhaustion. Opponents say it is a political ploy. (By Hasan Sarbakhshian -- Associated Press)
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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TEHRAN, Oct. 27 -- An illness that caused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to cancel some scheduled events last week has become a political issue as Iran prepares for presidential elections next year.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency on Saturday described the president as being exhausted, and several politicians allied to Ahmadinejad's faction have said he was overworked. Opponents, however, say the illness is a political stunt meant to showcase his image as a servant of the people.

Ahmadinejad appeared on state television Sunday saying that he might be exhausted but that it was nothing serious. "Of course, we are also human beings, and sometimes we catch a cold," he said.

With presidential elections slated for June 12, Ahmadinejad faces several issues that endanger his chances of reelection, including an annual inflation rate of nearly 30 percent and sliding oil revenue. Critics say he has failed in his promise to transfer the country's oil wealth directly to the people. But his image as a hard worker remains intact.

Ahmadinejad has not yet announced his candidacy, but almost all Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution have served two terms.

During his time as mayor of Iran's capital, Ahmadinejad cultivated an image as a hands-on manager willing on occasion to pick up a broom and help clean Tehran's streets. He travels frequently to remote villages, where he insists on meeting residents. His long workdays are often lauded in the state press.

"By God, sometimes [Ahmadinejad works] more than 22 hours a day," said Mehdi Kalhor, a longtime aide and media adviser to the president. "After work, he sits down and rests for a couple hours. But I saw him today at noon and he was completely well."

Local Web sites wrote that Ahmadinejad's exhaustion might affect his political future, but Kalhor said the president's health would be "no obstacle" to running for reelection.

Ahmadinejad's political opponents say the illness was meant to bolster his image.

"This news was leaked and propagated by the government itself, meant to create compassion from the electorate," said Mohammad Atrianfar, a politician who opposes Ahmadinejad. "They try to say that the president is so serious in his duties that he has even fallen ill. Everybody gets sick and then they get better. These are campaign tricks."

Atrianfar, who is affiliated with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is an important opponent of the government's policies, called for Ahmadinejad to work less.

"He should not work 22 hours a day. Bulldozers and cranes work 24 hours a day," he said. "Instead we need thoughts, not physical work. Actually, I wish he wouldn't work at all, because the work he does is more tragic than useful."

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