Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Size, and lipstick, matter in Afghan election

September 15, 2010


By Sayed Salahuddin   

It seems size does matter when it comes to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election.

And if that is true, then Malalai Ishaqzai stands a very good
chance of winning a seat in Saturday’s election.

One imposing billboard of Ishaqzai sits on a rooftop in the
centre of Kabul, almost as high as a three-storey building.

A current lawmaker and one of almost 2,500 candidates running
for 249 seats in the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament,
Ishaqzai is proud of her massive billboards.

“The reason is because I have done big works, like building
factories for widows, orphans and the disabled,” she told

She said she didn’t know how much her billboards cost, saying
local businessmen had paid for them and for expensive television

Many new and young faces standing for office are using the
same campaign technique.

Images of candidates on posters and billboards dot walls,
shopfronts and power and phone towers across Kabul, showing young
men and women in colourful, stylish clothes, both Western and

 Computer photo shops have been doing a roaring trade, erasing
wrinkles from candidates’ faces with an airbrush here and there.
Candidates suddenly look years younger than in real life. Some
not naturally blessed with photogenic good looks even suddenly
appear more attractive, Kabul residents say.

Some women, including a former singer and a hair dresser who
are among new candidates
, have used cosmetics and loose
headscarves to project a softer image, posing with tender smiles
and thick lipstick, a rare sight in deeply conservative Afghanistan.

 Others have posed alongside pictures of their deceased father
or past Afghan leaders. One candidate who describes himself as a
physician appears in a white gown, holding a stethoscope.

Former warlords who helped U.S.-led forces topple the Taliban
in 2001, ex-technocrats and some former communist regime
officials are also among the candidates. There are also two
Hindus, a real minority group in deeply Islamic Afghanistan.

Mohammad Younus Qanuni, the outgoing speaker of parliament,
has recorded a television commercial, wearing traditional clothes
in his aristocratic home.

Residents scoff sceptically, accusing some candidates of
being backed by the government, commercial banks, drug mafias and
landowners, even by foreign countries.

Just as the size of candidates’ billboards vary, so do their
motivations. Some are standing for fame, others for money, more
still to push political or ethnic agendas.

Those with genuine vision for Afghanistan seem few.

The mosaic of candidates includes musicians and singers, a
hair dresser, and sportsmen and women, prompting some
entertainers to make fun of them.

“Maybe some of the candidates are thinking of forming new
committees if they win the seats, like creating commissions for
singers, defending the rights of comedians and hair dressers,”
said one cynical resident.

“Alarm Bell”, a satirical TV show which lampoons candidates
and urges viewers to vote for its wig-wearing stars, is a big hit
in Afghanistan.

Some however hope, almost forlornly, for a more serious
approach to the election.

“We need people in the parliament to know about legislation
and making laws,” said Musa Fariwar, a law professor and

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