Peshawar: Never mind the big league politicians and their tech savvy PR wizards, the humble contestants of local elections in Khyber Pakhtunkwa are setting the social media alight, lending it the “grassroots” feel it sorely needs.
Ahead of the May 30 Local Government Elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, contestants in villages and towns have taken to social media like fish to water.
According to the Pakistan Advertisers’ Society, there are 13 million Facebook users in Pakistan, with 72% of those male and with the bulk of them between the ages of 18 – 34 years of age. Of the 13 million, 3 million hail from Karachi; Lahore bags second place with 2.6 million users and Islamabad third with 1.9 million users. Next falls Peshawar with 500k and Quetta with 200k active Facebook enthusiasts.
As General Elections 2013 established, social media in Pakistan has emerged as a vibrant platform for political and election campaigns with candidates sharing campaign manifestos, engaging with their constituencies and reaching out to supporters to win the elections.
Come Local Elections 2015 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the campaign is as frenzied in the towns and villages as it is in the cities, and the relatives and villagers supporting different contestants have shared political banners, pictures and promises on Facebook – that provides for posts in vernacular – to seek support for candidates in their villages, tehsils, towns and district councils.
According to figures available on the web portal of Election commission of Pakistan, 93231 candidates would contest 43,954 slots in local government polls across the province against different seats including village councilors, tehsil/town councilors and district councilors.
With free Facebook where users can generate contents of their own wish, candidates have been asking supporters with Facebook presence to share political banners on their timeline to reach out to thousands of users.
Abdul Karim, a student in a private university at Peshawar and administrator of a Facebook page with more than 10,000 followers has had “requests” from contestants to share their posters on his timeline to reach out to potential voters.
“I feel like a celebrity when candidates request for a political favor on my page,” Karim, smiling, told News Lens.
However, while the possibility of a free Facebook campaign has buoyed spirits of candidates and their supporters who want to reach out to voters beyond the cost and confines of traditional media and electioneering, it has dampened prospects elsewhere Professionals dealing in distribution, advertising and sales of newspapers consider the trend of campaigns on social media as a serious concern for circulation and commercial prospects of newspapers.
Abdur Rauf Yousafzai, Sales and Distribution Manager of the Express Media Group for KP told News Lens that as a large number of candidates turn to social media instead of traditional media to campaign for elections, it has squeezed the profits of newspapers compared to electioneering in the past.
Another concern for newspaper business is the drop in circulation. Yousafzai said before social media, newspaper circulation marked an increase over the years but it has been plummeting for quite sometime now.
“Candidates interacting with supporters and political parties through social media have millions of followers on their pages compared to those who don’t,” said Yousafzai. “It is free so why would they want to spend millions on newspapers advertisements?”
Rahimullah Khan, 40, a candidate for the seat of general counselor from Peshawar, has been using his Facebook page for political campaigning long before the local election campaign started in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He bought a smartphone with internet connection that he uses for long hours to interact with supporters on Facebook, responding to their questions and comments. He said the campaign on social media was far better than publishing adverts worth thousands of rupees.
“I get instant satisfaction whenever a user comments on my poster saying ‘my vote for you,” said Khan. “This kind of interaction cannot happen through traditional media”.
He said he interacted with his friends through live Facebook chatting which not only encouraged him and his supporters but also gave him an edge over political opponents.
Javed Aziz Khan, a Peshawar-based journalist who has been closely monitoring the local elections campaign on social media says that its use as a campaign tool is largely restricted to educated candidates and supporters based in urban areas.
“It is not being used all that much in rural areas as the population there has little access to internet,” said Khan.
Khan, who is an active user of Facebook and Twitter believes political campaigns on social media have an edge when it comes to promoting candidates in local government elections but traditional means of reaching out to supporters remain relevant.
“Social media could have a huge impact on election prospects of a candidate but traditional means such as posters and rallies cannot be discounted yet,” said Khan.
Khan also considers social media as a preferable platform for campaigning in local government election because most candidates hail from poor backgrounds. He said free social media outlets had reduced the cost of electioneering such as printing posters and banners for poor contestants.