By Fayaz Aziz and Mushtaq Ali

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Colourful trucks with paintings of political leaders that once dotted Pakistan’s roads and highways ahead of elections are missing this poll season, replaced mostly by the printing on posters and banners.

Kaleidoscopic murals of flowers, Islamic motifs, calligraphy, snow-capped Himalayan peaks, local mosques and popular figures are renowned examples of Pakistani truck art.

Before printing posters became widespread, truck paintings of leaders, particularly in the run-up to elections, were a much sought after campaign medium.

“We used to do good business during the elections in the past but people are not coming to us any more,” said Shakeel Ahmad, who has been painting trucks for the last 18 years in Peshawar.

The city in Pakistan’s northwest is one of the country’s major hubs for the art form.

“In the entire election campaign, only a single vehicle was brought to us for Imran Khan’s painting and then nobody came to us,” he said.

Paintings of former Prime Minister Imran Khan continue to be seen on some trucks, despite the jailed popular leader being barred by a court last year from holding political office.

Ahmad said painters are now limited to regular truck art, with business also being hurt by rising prices.

Higher living costs and political uncertainty have muted Pakistan’s once boisterous election campaigns, as the South Asian nation battles an economic crisis, inflation running at almost 30% and a weak currency.

There are a few exceptions, such as truck driver Zaffar Ali who drove hundreds of miles (km) to his home province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north to get a portrait of Nawaz Sharif painted on his truck.

Analysts say three-time premier Nawaz Sharif is the front-runner for Thursday’s election after his corruption convictions and lifetime ban from politics were recently overturned by the Supreme Court.

“Nawaz Sharif is charismatic, has done a lot for the country,” Ali said. “While he was the prime minister, people easily could get jobs, prices of petrol and diesel were less. Right now, we have nothing.”

The scion of a family that gave Pakistan two prime ministers, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is also in the running in this election.

“I would love to paint Bilawal but unfortunately I didn’t get to paint any of his images on trucks so far,” said Sohail Ghuri, has been doing truck art for the last 15 years and says he enjoys making portraits of political leaders.

(Reporting by Fayaz Aziz and Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar; Writing by Bansari Mayur Kamdar; Editing by YP Rajesh and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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