Afghan notebook: Gold chairs and vodka

A picture of one candidate in an ornate gold chair made the rounds on the web Image copyright Official campaign website
Image caption A picture of one candidate in an ornate gold chair made the rounds on the web

Social media is becoming a battleground in the Afghan presidential election campaign, with popular sites not just discussing the candidates but also poking fun at them.

Nicknamed "the bulldozer" for his grand urban reconstruction programme as governor of eastern Nangarhar province, Gul Agha Sherzai is one of the more colourful candidates.

His election symbol is also a bulldozer - to make sure voters who can't read or write will be able to spot him on the ballot paper.

In January a photograph started circulating on Facebook of Mr Sherzai at his campaign launch, sitting on a large and elaborate gold throne.

His running mates were placed on smaller silver chairs.

The photo has caused much hilarity online.

"It looks more like a wedding ceremony than a political gathering," said one Facebook user.

But Mr Sherzai is not alone in attracting mirth.

Black PR

In this election social media is being used more than ever - both to support and discredit candidates.

Many of the front runners have found themselves the butt of online jokes, and some have suggested that campaign teams specifically target rivals to undermine their reputation.

Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, came a close second to President Karzai in the last election in 2009.

A photo of him sitting, chatting to a colleague is currently doing the rounds.

It seems innocuous until you notice the two huge bottles of vodka that have been photo-shopped onto the table between them.

Image copyright Official campaign website
Image caption Another candidate has faced mockery over a picture showing him apparently praying with his back to Mecca's holiest site

Another victim is former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

A picture of him at the Hajj pilgrimage has been a subject of much mock outrage on Facebook because, thanks to an unfortunate camera angle, he appears to be reciting a prayer with his back to Mecca's holiest site, the Kabaa.

Other aspects of the campaign have also come under the social media spotlight.

One of Dr Abdullah's campaign slogans - "Men keep their promises" - prompted critics to say it's insulting to women.

Posters with the slogan were plastered all over Kabul and other cities until the protesters made their feelings known, but now they've disappeared.

A victory for the activists, but also, it seems, a small victory for Dr Abdullah who's been praised for his tolerance in accepting the criticism.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A slogan proclaiming 'men keep their promises' was withdrawn after social media users branded it insulting to women

Spelling trouble

Another slogan that's inspired the online jokers is from the campaign of former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul.

The softly-spoken Mr Rassoul has been depicted as a cartoon rock guitarist - a playful re-working of his favourite campaign word 'Sazendagi', the Dari word for reconstruction, which also happens to mean music band.

Spelling mistakes in a campaign poster have got the incumbent's brother, Qayum Karzai, in trouble.

Maybe it's the prospect of getting into power that's affecting his spelling, said one user.

The halting delivery of his campaign launch speech - read from a piece of paper - has also attracted comments.

If he can't spell and can't give a speech properly, how on earth can he lead the country, some asked.

But not everyone thinks the constant barrage of jokes and comments are funny.

Some suspect they could be the work of people working inside the various campaigns.

And at least one Facebook message called for the jokes to stop, saying discrediting other candidates was not the right way to conduct a campaign.

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