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Social media platforms to play vital role in next polls

Besides mainstream parties, religio-social organisations also keen to expand presence on social media, particularly Twitter

A British journalist was eager to learn about the activities of some political and religious parties in Pakistan during his visit to Lahore a few years ago.

Sitting in Lahore Press Club, he asked some reporters: “What are Twitter updates on their [political parties’] part today?”

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The writer was stunned when informed: “They don’t even have Twitter accounts.”

It was a time when Tories, Liberals, the UK government, its cabinet division, police, and hospitals could be easily found on the platform.

The British fellow was of the view that Pakistani politicians and political parties should become active on social media. No one took him seriously then but now times have changed.

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Politics in Pakistan is flourishing on social media – particularly on Twitter these days. Social media platforms, including Twitter, will play a critical role in the next elections, journalists and experts believe.

Indeed, all parties were far behind the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, a trendsetter when it comes to the use of social media to propagate its message. Besides enjoying dominance on Twitter with 16.7 million followers, PTI Chairman Imran Khan also enjoys millions of followers on Instagram and Facebook, much more than any other Pakistani celebrity. Going a step further, the former ruling party has recently introduced a social media app, receiving an overwhelming response from its supporters. The party chairman used a Twitter webinar as well as appeared on a podcast with a record number of audiences listening to his views.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Nawaz was quick to realize the party needed an active social media cell not only to keep its vote bank intact but also to broaden it. To compete with the PTI on digital media, the PML-N has recently brought on Twitter some celebrities from film and theatre. Honey Albela, Aga Majid, Zafri Khan, Nasir Chinyoti, and Tariq Teddy were among many whose accounts were created on the site in recent months with a message announcing support for the PML-N. The ruling party also broadcast famous actor Adnan Siddiqui’s message, ridiculing Imran Khan. His picture of having a meeting with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in London was also posted on social media. The PML-N introduced famous cleric Nasir Madni on Twitter. The cleric praised Nawaz Sharif and PML-N for their work in a video clip on social media. Cricket star Shahid Afridi’s message, in which the former captain was giving credit to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as a good administrator, also created a storm on social media. Meanwhile, Maryam has 7.2 million followers on Twitter.

The third major political party of the country, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is also struggling to make its active presence felt on Twitter. The PPP government in Sindh is quite active, with its Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, provincial minister Saeed Ghani and some others giving daily updates on Twitter. PPP leaders – including Senator Sherry Rehman, Bakhtwar Bhutto, Aseefa B Zardari among others – can also be found updating their status and interacting with people on the site. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has 4.7 million followers on Twitter.

To the surprise of many, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right religious organisation, has been making the most powerful use of social media to reach people.

It ran many top trends on Twitter during recent months. TLP spokesperson Saddam Hussain said the party enjoyed the following of millions of people on Facebook and Twitter. “All our supporters are working on a volunteer basis,” he claimed.

However, it seemed the TLP was more active on Facebook and Whatsapp groups than on Twitter and the same was the trend for other religious parties – including the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal. JI Emir Sirajul Haq enjoys 1.1 million followers on Twitter. JI social media cell in-charge Shamsurrehman Amjad said the party would be seen as more active on social media platforms in the coming days.

“We are devising a strategy for it,” he said. The JI is live-casting its leaders’ speeches on Facebook pages on daily basis.

JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman has more than 460,000 followers on Twitter. Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan Secretary-General Shah Owais Noorani has over 154,400 followers on Twitter, one of the most active religious parties’ leaders on social media.

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