Thursday, June 25, 2009

Signs of the Times...Literally

This post is literally about signs. Just about any business in town that wants to look modern uses English on their signs. I once asked one of my interpreters (a proud young father of an 18-month old boy) what was the most important thing an Afghan child needed to learn. He said, "English."

Well, sometimes the sign painters do a good job and get it right...

Super Kabul Gym
Nary a Dari word in sight.
Bodybuilding is part Russian legacy and the modern ideas of body image.

Other times...almost...

Wesal Beauty Purler

But more to the point it is election season in Afghanistan! Thankfully, their campaigns don't last two years like ours do. This year over 17 million Afghans are registered to vote(an increase of about 4.2 million over the last election).

Campaign posters on lightposts
At least they're using them for something other than hanging bodies.
They haven't been lit since the Afghan Civil War following the Soviet withdrawal.

The leading candidate is still Hamid Karzai. He has the power of incumbency and he's using to maximum advantage...

Showing you the way forward...

Making Sure you get the point...

Calling on YOU!

And he's child-friendly too!

But he does have some competition...about 40 of them. Here's a few.

Campaign posters on a wall
Karzai dominates, note the more traditional appearance here.
Hedayat Amin Arsala at the top is a minor player.
The woman, Shahla Ata is not so minor. More about her a little later.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is probably the closest competitor. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and is fluent in English, Dari and Pashto and also speaks some Arabic and French.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
Note the little white box with three tea kettles.
In a country with such a high rate of illiteracy, you need a system.
Each candidate has an election symbol that you will see on their posters/billboards.

Dr Abdullah and his "running mates."
Afghanistan has two vice presidents, but not all candidates specifically declare running mates.

At the moment the number three contender is thought to be
Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the former Minister of Finance.
He quit Karzai's government a couple years ago to protest the rampant corruption.
He's also an American citizen.

Now we come to the "Dark Horse" who might surprise a lot of people. Shahla Ata is currently thought to be a distant fourth. She is a well-respected Member of Parliament and is running on a progressive platform that includes compulsory education and equal rights for women. She's popular among the more educated people in the cities, but has quite a few enemies in the countryside...namely those who think of women as property.

Shahla Ata and Mohammed Daoud Khan
Nope, he's not her running mate. They don't allow corpses to run.

He's the first President of Afghanistan, who overthrew his cousin the King in 1973 and who was assassinated by the communists during a coup along with most of his family back in 1978. What Shahla is doing is aligning her policies with Daoud's. Also, notice that her election symbol is a bald eagle clutching the Afghan flag...hmmm. Daoud was trying to align his country with the West, which is why the Soviets backed the coup against him. Daoud pushed for women's rights and education. He also ruthlessly supressed Islamic extremists.

Some also rans...

Sayed Jalal

Mualana Abdul Qadr Amami Ghowri
"Mualana" tells you that he is a religious scholar.
His picture is also misleading.
He's quite a bit grayer these days.

Mirwais Yasini

Meytsim Basha Manhebi
You used to be able to tell which bus stopped here.
Manhebi's enthusiastic campaign workers obscured that information with his picture.

Of course the bad guys are picking up the pace to disrupt the election and we are picking up the pace to make sure that they cannot disrupt the elections. So it may be a "hot" summer even if the temperatures stay below normal as they have for May and June.

Last election people literally voted "under fire."    It's likely that they will again and their percentage will likely still be higher than our last election.

Americans stay away from the polls if it rains.

Sorta puts things in perspective and it doesn't reflect well on us.