Why an eggplant is this political hopeful’s campaign mascot

Key Points
  • Unique symbols assigned by the election commission in Pakistan appear on ballot papers, allowing voters to stamp their choice.
  • 150 symbols have been assigned to political parties, and another 174 will be given to independent candidates.
  • Former prime minister Imran Khan’s party faces a symbol chaos as each candidate is assigned individual icons, including dice and a bowl.
Every country has its own election quirks and political symbols. The democracy sausage reigns supreme in Australia, while the United States has donkeys and elephants.
But in Pakistan, the humble eggplant has become the symbol of one political hopeful’s electoral campaign.

This is the story behind the “bizarre symbols” making an impression on the campaign trail.

Who is Aamir Mughal?

Aamir Mughal is a candidate for Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and one of the followers of
Khan’s followers are running as independents in the national election in February and have each been assigned electoral symbols, with Mughal’s being the eggplant.
The eggplant – or “baingan” in Urdu language – is a key ingredient in Pakistani cuisine.

It is also ripe with symbolic connotations, notably deployed as an emoji suggestive of male anatomy.

Aamir Mughal, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and an independent election candidate for the national assembly, with his electoral symbol – an eggplant. Source: AFP / Farooq Naeem

“The election commission assigned us this symbol to make a mockery of us,” said 46-year-old Mughal.

“We felt weird,” he admitted.
But Mughal’s team have leaned into their fate. An aide trails him with a sack of the purple produce. He carries it like a mascot and makes speeches against a backdrop of festooned aubergines.
When addressing voters he holds it aloft like Shakespeare’s Hamlet contemplating a skull. Such is the popularity of their campaign, they claim the cost of eggplants has risen fourfold at grocers.
“This symbol is giving me extraordinary fame,” said Mughal.

“Everyone wants to look at it as they know the symbol belongs to Imran Khan’s candidate.”

What is an electoral symbol?

Electoral symbols – unique pictorial identifiers – are handed out by Pakistan’s election commission to political parties and candidates.
The symbols appear on ballot papers, with voters able to put a stamp on their symbol of choice.
The ballot paper also has names, but over 40 per cent of Pakistan’s 241 million population are illiterate, making the pictures extra important for recognition.

Pakistan’s election process involves thousands of candidates and dozens of political parties and symbols. A single ballot paper has a long list of options for voters.

Parties usually have long-standing symbols, which, for Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was the cricket bat, referencing Khan being a
The Election Commission of Pakistan stripped the PTI of the symbol on technical grounds that it had not held intra-party elections, a prerequisite for any party to take part in the 8 February vote.

The party alleges the powerful military is attempting to keep it out of the election race, a charge the army denies.

One person is pointing to a symbol in a list, while another person is pointing to a different symbol.

The symbols appear on ballot papers, with voters able to put a stamp on their symbol of choice. Source: AAP / Bilawal Arbab/EPA

What are the other symbols?

A total of 150 symbols have been assigned to political parties, and another 174 will be given to independent candidates for this election.
Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party uses a tiger, while the party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain premier Benazir Bhutto, uses an arrow.
Symbols available to independents include a donkey cart and an ironing board.

In northwestern Pakistan, Shehryar Afridi was incensed when he was issued the bottle symbol.

In the local Pashto language, calling someone a bottle implies they are an “empty vessel” – vapid and thoughtless.
It also has connotations of alcohol consumption in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where conservative Islam holds sway.
“Most of the PTI candidates, including myself, were given symbols that were meant to create a negative bias,” said the 45-year-old candidate for Kohat city.
Eventually, after he took his case to the high court and lost, he decided to be creative and tweaked his symbol.
“A bottle doesn’t only represent alcohol, it also represents medicine,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve transformed our electoral symbol into a medicine bottle – so that we can address all societal ailments.”

At the rally, people are holding a large toy tiger in the air and waving green flags.

Supporters of Shehbaz Sharif, former Prime Minister and the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), hold party flags and the party’s electoral symbol ‘lion’. Source: AAP / Shahzaib Akber/EPA

Ejaz Gaddan, the 50-year-old Bahawalpur candidate, ended up with a “charpai” – a simple wood-frame bed with a sprung surface of woven rope, commonly used in lower-income homes.

“My symbol is already available in every household. I don’t have to introduce it to my constituents,” said Gaddan.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, considered military-backed, is canvassing with the symbol of a fearsome big cat. But Gaddan is unfazed.
“The lion is a bloodthirsty beast,” he says.

“There is no place in our society for a beast.”

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