Categorized | South Asian Politics

Modern Means of Campaigning in Pakistan

Posted on 24 April 2013 by admin

       Dr. Hasan Askari

  Pakistan’s 10th general elections are drawing a lot of attention inside and outside of Pakistan. A large number of media teams are expected to be in Pakistan during the last week before the polling date. Foreign correspondents and their local representatives are already busy on reporting on different political developments in Pakistan that are bound to have implications for the elections. Over two hundred foreign election observers are going to be in Pakistan for election monitoring. The largest contingent of foreign observers is coming from the European Union. In addition to them, several thousand local election observers will be active on the polling day, monitoring the voting process. Most of them belong to non-governmental organizations and the media.

  Foreign election observers get briefings from the Election Commission, federal and provincial governments on the election arrangements. They will be talking to different party leaders and, on the voting day, they will visit polling stations. However, their activities are going to be limited to urban centers because of their personal security considerations. They are not expected to visit Balochistan and the tribal areas. Some of the Balochistan based political parties have demanded that the elections observers should visit that province.

 Modern communication technology is being used more frequently this time than was the case in the February 2008 elections. Mobile phones are the main communication system in election campaigning and the monitoring of the polling stations. Mobile phone message system is currently being used to send political messages for seeking support for the elections as well as for inviting activists and voters to party meetings. Facebook and Twitter are also being used for debating the elections affairs, especially the election manifestos and the role of the leadership in political parties. Some of these exchanges are contentious and the supporters of different political parties trade charges and counter charges. The e-mail messages are also used for sending publicity material and for inviting people to meetings.

  Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) was the first party to use modern communication technologies for political mobilization and publicity. Others have followed the PTI. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) has established a special team working under the leadership of Marriam Nawaz (daughter of Nawaz Sharif) for using Information Technology for building support and communicating regularly with voters and supporters. The PPP was rather slow in adopting modern communication technology. Now, it is also using e-mail, Facebook, twitter and SMS through mobile in its election campaign. Almost all political parties have their web pages, although all parties are not efficient in updating their web pages.

 However the use of modern communication technology, especially the use of computer for communication, is limited to urban population, especially the young ones who are more into the modern technology. A large part of rural population and the poor section of population in cities do not have much access to computer related communication technology. The old traditional ways of door-to-door interaction, circulation of handbills and corner meetings are used more frequently.

 Much has changed over the years in the making of advertisement and publicity material for the elections. It was in the 1988 general elections that the political parties hired professional advertising agencies to manage an election campaign. In 1988 and 1990 the focus was on negative propaganda against the political rival. A lot of negative publicity material was distributed by Pakistan Muslim League against Benazir Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto; some of the propaganda was nothing more than character assassination of these ladies. Now the election campaign focus has shifted to projection of one’s achievements and promises for the future rather than character assassination of the political rival.

   Currently we see a lot of focus on newspaper advertisements. Major political parties have been publishing full page advertisements in the newspapers. Television advertisement is more expensive than newspaper advertisement. All major political parties are regularly using private sector TV channels for advertising their manifestos and agenda.

 The administrations of some cities, including Lahore and Rawalpindi, have started charging fee for displaying party/candidate posters on roadsides. The rates for main streets are higher for the side roads and streets. In this way the city administrations are earning a reasonable amount of revenue.

 The traditional festival like atmosphere is no longer visible in the current election campaign. The traditional methods of election campaigning like holding big public meetings, taking out of election marches and a high visibility of candidates in the election campaign are not used so often. The threats of terrorist attacks have dissuaded the candidates from using these methods.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan has not merely threatened to disrupt the election campaign of left-liberal political parties like the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, it has actually launched suicide attacks and bombing raids on the candidates of these parties.

 These terrorist incidents have made it difficult for these three political parties to engage in electioneering freely. The Islamist parties are benefiting from this situation but these parties are not expected to perform well in the elections with the exception of the JUI-Falur Rahman. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League are also not the declared target of attack by the Taliban, although these leaders adopt security measures. None of these parties has condemned the Taliban attack on the election campaign of their adversaries.

 The election campaign will pick up momentum by the end of this month but the dark shadow of terrorism will continue to haunt election campaigning.

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