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The general elections 2024 are just 6 days away and election campaigns of all the independent and political party candidates are in full swing. One of the most interesting aspects of election campaigns this year is extensive  use of digital media platforms to reach out to their voters.

As the elections are approaching closer, political parties are investing substantial funds to disseminate their messages to their voters via various digital forms. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) has developed an app that converts voters lists into digital lists and with the help of this information, local leadership is connecting with voters, sharing the party chairman’s message and motivating them to vote for their party. Moreover, these lists will also generate voter’s slip in digital form and will be sent through WhatsaApp providing details about polling stations and constituencies.

Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League (N) –  (PML-N) has been extensively using social media platforms to reach out to its voters. Local leadership in various constituencies has been sending the party’s message, voter’s slip and daily updates about the party’s campaign and information about constituencies.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) faced a hard time in managing their campaign on the field and most of their election campaign have been relying only on digital platforms. Earlier, PTI developed a website www.pticandidates.com for voters to know their candidates and symbols after the Supreme court strips PTI with its election’s symbol “cricket Bat”. However, on January 24, PTI’s official website and election candidates portal were made inaccessible in Pakistan. In the meantime, PTI tackled these blockades and launched chatbots on Facebook messengers via both Imran Khan’s and PTI’s official Facebook pages. Furthermore, PTI launched azaadvote.com and GitHub repository for voters to access information about their candidates.

While campaigning on the field during general elections yields limited results with limited crowds with costs much higher than digital campaigns, precisely for the reasons most political parties are relying heavily on digital platforms with innovative approaches to target a bigger chunk of population i.e. youth which currently accumulates over 50% of eligible voters statistics in Pakistan and 71.70 million social media users in Pakistan as per statistics of January 2023.

Since digital campaigns are more targeted and work more efficiently to reach out voters on a personal level, it comes up with some limitations. With recent events of network shutdown in the country without any prior notice or schedule, the digital campaigns look uncertain and controlled by the state. Whenever a political party holds an online political event, the internet is either throttled by the government or completely shut down. While caretaker government faced backlash from citizens, the Director General of PTA, Ahmed Shamim Pirzada, accompanied by the Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi and FIA Cyber Crime Director of Operations Waqaruddin Syed, addressed the media in an attempt to provide a technical explanation for the internet blackout. However, the skepticism among the public remained high.

As Pakistan stands at the threshold of significant political events with the upcoming elections, the internet disruptions have added unnecessary chaos and suspicion. The PTA’s technical explanations have not managed to quell public skepticism, and the extended resolution timeline only deepens concerns. In a digital age, where connectivity is crucial, and political parties are heavily relying on digital campaigning, the internet blackout is becoming a reason of discontent, prompting calls for greater transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.