Beyond the Ballot

Whether you’re voting for a potential head boy of the school or the future Prime Minister of Pakistan, elections always create a contagiously electric atmosphere. A unique sort of patriotism only comes out during election season, triggered and nurtured by the rallies, TVCs, songs, and merchandise of one’s preferred parties or candidates. However, social media has added another dimension to the campaigns and the capacity to engage with political figures – let’s explore how.

Earlier today, I was scrolling TikTok and came across a political video, albeit parody, that had hashtags about some politicians. Below that, there was a tiny banner, saying this:

Now, I found it really interesting, because I’ve seen this about COVID-19, but I hadn’t considered there would be one for something so… local. Here’s where it led:

There’s also an option to switch languages, which makes this all the more accessible for the majority of Pakistani TikTok users. Great move, in my opinion!

If we talk about how various major political parties have utilised social media, two important factors must be noted:

  1. These aren’t the first elections since social media became popular
  2. One party is almost fully dependent on social media for their campaign, therefore they need to adapt, improvise, overcome – all that jazz.

Two of the major parties have been quite traditional in their approach, though that’s not a bad thing considering technology adoption and literacy levels of this country.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has mostly just covered their in-person events on their social media, and sporadically posted some promotional videos too. Recently, there was a podcast appearance too by their chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which was not only well-timed, but also has been well-received. Generally, PPP’s social media strategy is relatively passive.

Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN), on the other hand, is proactive in its social media approach by publicising successful initiatives carried out in their tenure, engaging with different accounts to promote themselves, and also by commenting on the activities of their opponents (though this can be considered a means to maximise troll engagement).

PMLN also provides coverage of their “jalsay” and other in-person activities to keep their voters informed and in the loop, though their campaigning is quite ahead of PPP in terms of social media usage.

Lastly, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been very innovative. Media censorship and absence of prominent leaders from the public sphere has led to very limited traditional options when it comes to election campaigns. Over the past few weeks, they’ve had several online gatherings/”jalsas” with different local and international representatives talking about their campaigns and manifestos. Additionally, since PTI was not given a unique symbol for these elections, every candidate has a differing one, instead of the classic ‘bat’. To make that information easy to access for the general public, they set up not only a website with the information, but anyone can text Imran Khan’s profile on Messenger with their assigned constituency e.g., NA48, and get an automated response telling them the details of the relevant PTI candidate. PTI’s social media approach stands out, but perhaps the circumstances would be different if they weren’t placed under restrictions.

As we approach the day of, the main thing that stands out about social media campaigns is that it’s a lot easier to make claims, but also to refute them. The digital age has made it possible to use an objective lens to perceive and evaluate our different options, and everyone, therefore, stands on even ground. At the end, what matters is freedom of speech, and with the uncertainty surrounding something as basic as Wi-Fi access and availability, one can only hope for the best.

About the Author: With chai and Google Docs as trusted companions, Abrish Nayyar has honed the art of weaving stories, fueled by late-night inspiration and the mundane world. Aspiring to one day be a published author, to her, every article is an inch closer to that goal.