In crowded field, Iraq election hopefuls vie to stand out

by Ali Choukeir
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Ahead of Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections, an Al-Fath Alliance poster (top) reads: "Ahmad al-Assadi, the Spokesman". Pictured in Baghdad on May 8, 2018

With campaign posters cluttering the streets of Iraq, the almost 7,000 candidates running for parliament in upcoming elections are resorting to increasingly wacky pitches to woo voters.

As they bid for one of the 329 seats up for grabs the would-be MPs seem to be outdoing each other with eye-catching slogans, ranging from the amusing to the downright bizarre.

"Vote for Anuar al-Waili, her cousin owns a tyre shop in Australia," reads one full-page newspaper advert published ahead of the May 12 nationwide poll.

Like other candidates who use their professions to highlight their qualifications for parliament, Ahmed al-Assadi's posters proudly display his title.

"Official spokesman", it reads -- but for what, it does not say.

The reason is that Assadi represented the Hashed al-Shaabi, paramilitary units that fought alongside Iraq's regular forces against the Islamic State group.

Like a large number of his former comrades-in-arms who are running for election, Assadi has had to officially quit his military position to stand -- meaning that he can't spell out the details of his job in full.

For others, vagueness seems to form an even more important part of their pitch to voters.

Aisha al-Massari, a candidate for the National Alliance of Vice President Ayad Allawi, proudly boasts that she has "accomplished 1,000 deeds".

Exactly what those deeds are remains a total mystery.

- 'Light of the heavens' -

Another question mark for Iraqis is the absent face of Hanae Turki, number two on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Victory Alliance list.

Her posters are blank except for her name and family title -- Umm Zine Al Abidine, or "the mother of Zine Al Abidine".

In the head-spinning world of Iraqi politics, some of the alliances that this election has thrown up have sparked humour among locals -- especially the unlikely pairing of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and the communists.

When the annual workers' day holiday on May 1 coincided with a major Shiite holy day, jokers quipped that it was all thanks to the new hook-up and urged "workers of the world to unite in prayer".

In a nod to the split personality of the political union, one of its candidates in Baghdad has even gone so far as to produce two sets of posters.

One version hanging up around majority Shiite neighbourhoods shows Hasna al-Janabi dressed conservatively in a traditional headscarf.

In another poster displayed elsewhere around the city her hair is uncovered.

Some of the zanier attempts to drum up attention haven't ended too well.

In the southern agricultural province of Zi Qar, one candidate was arrested after proclaiming himself the "founder, leader and winner of the party of God, light of the heavens and Earth, prophet, lord, imam and holy warrior".

Even with election hopeful Yasser Nasser Hussein in detention, internet users have not tired of sharing a video in which he announces his run after a "divine revelation".

Others, meanwhile, have tried their hardest to end any controversy surrounding their candidacies.

Lawyer Moneim Hitler al-Jabri chose to address his unfortunate middle name head on to nip any potential mockery in the bud.

"Hitler is just a name, not a way of life," he wrote in a Facebook post to his followers.

- Boozing appeal -

Another candidate Fayeq al-Sheikh Ali found an unusual constituency to reach out to as he seeks to cling onto his seat at the head of a secular alliance.

"Don't laugh, but I appeal to all those who love good wine in Iraq, to those who appreciate good arak, who has defended you in parliament?" he said at a press conference, referencing attempts to ban alcohol.

"It's your turn to support me today, just as I have supported you."

All the public slogans and declarations are just the tip of the iceberg.

A photographer in southern Iraq recounts how a candidate showed up at his studio dressed in his undershirt and demanded that "a suit be photoshopped" over the top to create his official portrait.

"I am keeping a photo of him in his vest, just in case," the photographer laughs.

All of these machinations and publicity stunts have proved rich pickings for comedians.

In his videos and shows, Ahmed Wahid lays into the foibles of Iraq's politicians.

But he says the joke might really end up being on the country's voters.

"All these stories are not the fault of the politicians, but of the electorate," he tells AFP.

"They insult the politicians all day, every day, and then they turn around and elect them."

Ahead of Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections, an Al-Fath Alliance poster (top) reads: "Ahmad al-Assadi, the Spokesman". Pictured in Baghdad on May 8, 2018

A picture taken on May 8, 2018 in Baghdad shows an electoral campaign billboard of Aisha al-Massari, proudly boasting that she has "accomplished 1,000 deeds"

An electoral campaign poster of Democratic Civil Alliance candidate Momeim Hitler al-Jabri hangs in central Baghdad on May 8, 2018

Posters of candidates in Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections are seen with Arabic slogans in the streets of Baghdad on May 8, 2018