Pakistan: The Election Will Be Televised - and Tweeted

In the contentious 1990s, politicians used the floor of the parliament and rallies to rail against opponents. Pakistan’s newest crop of politicians isn’t taking to the mic but to the smartphone.

Over the past few years, most mainstream political and religious parties — from the PML-N and the ANP to the PTI and the JI — have established an extensive presence on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Will the social media have an impact on the elections? Former legislators such as the PML-N’s Marvi Memon and the ANP’s Bushra Gohar disagree. According to Memon, “My constituency is a rural one [she is contesting a National Assembly seat from Thatta]. Twitter won’t have an impact there.” Gohar makes the same point: “I don’t see the social media playing any significant impact on this year’s election. Personally, I feel radio debates and discussions play a more substantial role in voters’ education on critical issues.”

Gohar doesn’t feel Twitter helped in her role as a legislator but she feels it was a “good source for getting diverse opinions and articles”. Memon, on the other hand, used her Twitter account as a way of sharing her daily work. “It helped me because I have been able to get feedback,” she says. […]

“One of the major things [on May 11] will be to get the vote out,” says Imran Ghazali, head of the PTI’s social media team. “People used to say that we are a ‘Facebook party’ and that our members would never come to rallies. Now that they come to rallies people say, ‘this burger crowd won’t show up to vote’. We’re going to push them enough to do so.”

Ghazali says that the social media will influence the elections in terms of encouraging people to vote and report voter fraud. […] He adds that on election day, the PTI will also have a “crowd-sourced system online that will be open to all parties” to record voter complaints and election rigging through tweets and videos. “This will be open to the people and the media.”

According to Ghazali, the PTI is talking to media groups and the Election Commission of Pakistan to forward this information on a formal basis. “Getting it implemented isn’t in our hands, but we can report it,” he said.

Ibraheem Qazi, who works at the JI social media wing […], says that the role of the social media on election day is relevant as far as broadcasting information goes. “For candidates, the situation on the ground is very different from what is on the social media,” he points out. “We are from the streets.” The JI’s vote bank isn’t necessarily one that has access to a smartphone or an internet connection.

Twitter and Facebook are also largely restricted to those who can read and write English, since most communication online is in English — though Gohar says that she knows of “many who communicate in Urdu and Pashto”. […]

While Twitter and Facebook continue to be useful tools, political parties will be going back to the basics for the elections. After all, a 140-character tweet can’t compare to a speech to potential voters in a constituency. “Election day itself is very important,” says Qazi. “You never know how the tables can turn.”

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Picture by cbhdesign.

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