(Islamabad) Aamir Mughal proudly holds up an eggplant. Candidate for Thursday’s elections in Pakistan, he is trying to rally the voters gathered in front of him to the absurd standard that has been attributed to him, by diverting to his advantage a symbol that borders on the absurd.
“The eggplant is now a famous symbol throughout Pakistan,” quips this candidate for deputy in the capital Islamabad and supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, currently imprisoned.
In Pakistan, where the literacy rate is only 60%, political parties use symbols to identify their candidates during the campaign and on ballot papers.
But while a repression orchestrated by the army falls on the opposition, certain candidates accuse the authorities of hindering their campaign by giving them logos that they consider incongruous or even infamous.
Imran Khan was not allowed to run and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was barred from using its long-standing symbol: a cricket bat.
The applications of dozens of PTI officials were rejected. The rest must compete as independents and many have reported being victims of harassment or being forced into hiding.
Some have been allocated sometimes bizarre emblems at their discretion and are having a hard time getting their campaign off the ground.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson explained that the symbols were chosen from a list intended for independent candidates and “are exclusively the prerogative of returning officers”.
Eggplant – or “baingan” in Urdu, the national language – is a major ingredient in Pakistani cuisine. But it also hides other allusions, notably being used as an emoji suggesting the male anatomy.
“The Electoral Commission assigned us this symbol to make fun of us,” protests Aamir Mughal, 46 years old.
But the candidate embraced his destiny. He is everywhere flanked by an assistant who carries a bag stuffed with the purple vegetable. Aamir Mughal waves it like a mascot and delivers his speeches in front of a garland of eggplants.
When he addresses the audience, he raises it in the air and gazes at it. His campaign has gained so much popularity that he swears the price of eggplants has quadrupled on the shelves.
“This symbol brings me extraordinary fame,” he assures.
Ejaz Gaddan depicts, with a touch of romanticism, his constituency in the province of Punjab as his ancestral land, the “final resting place” of his ancestors. As chance sometimes does things surprisingly, a bed was allocated to him as a symbol.
“They are trying to humiliate us with these symbols. Some candidates are embarrassed to tell people which one they received,” said this 50-year-old candidate from the Bahawalpur constituency.
“It’s not an election, it’s cruelty,” he sighs. Its emblem is a “charpai”, a traditional bed made of a wooden frame woven with ropes, common in poor families.
“It’s a very useful household item. When we are alive, charpai allows us to rest. When we die, he takes us on our last journey,” observes Ejaz Gaddan.
“A negative prejudice”
“My symbol is in every home. I don’t need to present it to my voters,” he adds, trying to look on the bright side of things.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which is said to have the support of the army, is campaigning with a feline as its symbol. But Ejaz Gaddan remains unfazed.
“The lion is a bloodthirsty beast,” he criticizes. “There is no place in our society for a beast. »
In northwest Pakistan, Shehryar Afridi flew into a rage when he learned his symbol would be a bottle.
In the local Pashto language, calling someone a bottle implies that they have no brains. This may also suggest that he consumes alcohol, which is very frowned upon in this conservative region.
“Most PTI candidates, including myself, received symbols intended to create a negative prejudice,” notes Shehryar Afridi, 45, candidate for Kohat town.
“We were deliberately given symbols intended to ridicule us,” he asserts. He appealed to local courts, but was unsuccessful.
However, he too found a clever way to turn things to his advantage. “A bottle doesn’t just represent alcohol, it also represents medicine,” he notes.
“That’s why we transformed our electoral symbol into a medical bottle, so that we can treat all of society’s illnesses. »