"Pakistanis will go to the polls on May 11 to vote in a general election. In the face of violent threats from militants, politicians are going online."

Naeem Sahoutara

Pakistan election, Pakistan social media, Pakistan social media election, militants, Naeem Sahoutara

Nashtar Park is usually the focal point for election campaigns in Karachi.

But not this year... no public gatherings, no flags on the streets, no corner meetings.

45-year-old Javed Akhtar says it doesn’t feel like an election is coming.

“There used to be huge, historic gatherings. There’s only a few days left to the election, but so far no gatherings have been held.”

“Karachi is deserted as terrorism rules the streets. Bombs have exploded everywhere. People are afraid to leave their homes.”

The Pakistani Taliban has been carrying out bloody attacks ahead of the election, targetting secular political parties.

Since early April, the Taliban has killed at least 60 people in attacks on politicians and party workers.

Recently, leaders of the secular political parties pressurized the government into providing full security for the election process.  They even closed down their offices to avoid attacks.

The local leader of the Awami National Party, Zaman Chakarzai, is top of the militant’s hit list. 

“Our party has stopped its activities all over the country due to serious security threats. Many of our leaders have been killed,” he says.

“So in this modern age, we are promoting our activities through social networking websites. I myself am actively campaigning for election through all the social networks sites."

Facebook and Twitter are now popular among politicians.

Maryam Anwar is busy preparing an online campaign for the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, which aims to gather support from the urban youth and women.

It’s the first party to make such extensive use of Facebook.

“In the past you put up posters, billboards, and things like that. Now you don’t need to do that because if you need to get your message across you can send it through SMS or Facebook. You can also copy and paste articles and convince people. So that gives better read and people can do their own investigation and get convinced.”

Around 8 million Pakistanis use Facebook and some two million are active on Twitter.  And the number of internet users is growing by 7 percent each year.

Going online is a safer choice for campaigners, and it can also reach a wider audience, says Maryam.

“On Facebook, we can reach 400 to 500 people. If it’s a planned event, when the social media comes in, you can reach many many more and gather immediate crowd. As far as social networks are concerned, it can reach up to 600 people.. and it multiplies because it also goes to another 500, 600 people. It becomes like a wave throughout.”

But more than 60 percent of the population are illiterate and don’t use the internet.

Many parties are failing to get their message across to the mass public ....  people like Javed Akhtar.

“It's all has been happening on the internet and only those who have a computer can see what's going on. I can only see it on TV when a few parties appear. I only know the candidates, who is contesting from my area, but nothing more.”

Shahid Abbasi is the editor of the country’s first independent news website, The News Tribe. He says online campaigns must go hand in hand with offline ones.

“Social media is nothing. But, when you use it with your off-line appearance or activities then it will be a good communication tool to make a strong community, to engage it and bring it to an actionable point."

But it’s still important to have a strong online presence... 

Khurrum Abdur Razaq heads the social media wing of the largest Islamic party in Pakistan.  He says social media can reach people who have never been interested in politics.

“Social media has also become a competitor of conventional media in the country and social media is more powerful than the other one.”

  • Pakistan election
  • Pakistan social media
  • Pakistan social media election
  • militants
  • Naeem Sahoutara

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