Bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with smartphones

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In this photo taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP)
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In this photo taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP)
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In this photo taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP)
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In this photo taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2018
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Bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with smartphones

  • More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time
  • About 371,000 troops will spread out across Pakistan to guard the election

ISLAMABAD: The crowd of young Pakistanis, many armed with smartphones, surround the politician’s car and begin streaming live footage of something extraordinary: angry voters asking their elected representatives what they have done for them lately.
A titanic 46 million people below the age of 35 are registered to vote in nationwide elections on July 25 — many of them savvy social media users who are posting videos calling out the powerful.
In one clip, influential politician, landowner and tribal chief Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan is filmed in his car in the central city of Multan surrounded by young men chanting “thief” and “turncoat.”
“Where were you during the last five years?” they ask Bosan, complaining over the poor state of roads in the area. An aide can be heard pleading that the leader is feeling unwell.
To be held accountable in such a public manner is virtually unheard of for most Pakistani politicians, especially in rural areas where many of the videos have been filmed.
There feudal landowners, village elders and religious leaders have for decades been elected unopposed. Many are known to use their power over residents to bend them to their will.
Dubbed the “electables,” these politicians command huge vote banks. Most also take a flexible approach to ideology, and are highly courted by political parties, who view winning their allegiance as a passport to power.
But videos like the one of Bosan have gone viral in the weeks leading up to the polls, shared thousands of times in a country of some 207 million people, of whom roughly a quarter use 3G and 4G Internet, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.
They have also made their way on to Pakistan’s numerous and raucous television channels, ensuring they are also broadcast to audiences without access to social media.
Analysts are watching closely to see whether these rare moments of accountability might disrupt the way the major political parties have long relied on rural politicians and their huge vote banks as a shortcut to power.

The videos’ popularity is a sign of simmering resentment against corrupt politicians among Pakistan’s youth, says Sarwar Bari, an analyst at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a democratic watchdog.
Historically apathetic, young Pakistanis first emerged as a political force in the 2013 elections, when a generation who grew up idolising cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan voted for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in droves.
Under-35s represent a massive proportion of the total electorate of 106 million voters registered in the 2018 elections.
More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time.
The Asia Foundation noted in a recent report that many young people are increasingly engaged in the democratic process, particularly through the widespread use of social media.
If so, and as concerns over election rigging mount ahead of the vote, the impact of uncensored content such as the viral videos could become significant, analysts say.
“Social media has emerged as a democracy strengthening tool,” says Shahzad Ahmed, director of Bytes for All, a digital rights group.
Bari, who predicts election turnout will be “massive,” says if even half of the young voters who have seen and shared such videos go to the polls “it will strengthen the trust of the people in the democratic system.”
Pakistanis only started to recieve high-speed mobile data in 2014 and its use has spread at one of the highest rates in Asia.
Access for young people to social media is helping to create a more democratic and participatory form of government, argues Maham Khan, a 21-year-old student of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam university in Islamabad.
She references protests in Cairo in 2011 which were organized via social media and eventually unseated the then-president Hosni Mubarak.
“Basically the youth is actually using social media just like in Egypt, to bring about slow social revolution,” she says.
But who they will vote for is hard to predict, with vast socioeconomic, religious and ideological differences between this huge population — though jobs and education are among their most unifying demands.
Polls still broadly indicate youth support for PTI and Khan’s populist, reformist agenda, though the shine may have gone off the sportsman somewhat — one of the viral videos shows him being whisked away by aides as a similar crowd challenges him in Karachi.
Nevertheless, most students who spoke to AFP expressed hope for change after decades of corrupt political dynasties, and Khan — despite widespread claims he is being backed by the powerful military as they seek a pliant government — represents the best chance of that.
“As a first time voter myself... I’m very excited and I want to be a part of this process through which my vote can bring change,” 23-year-old Rafey Khan Jaboon told AFP.


Trump ex-lawyer Cohen sentenced to 3 years prison on campaign charge

Michael Cohen
Updated 12 min 36 sec ago
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Trump ex-lawyer Cohen sentenced to 3 years prison on campaign charge

  • Cohen received 36 months for the payments and two months for the false statements to Congress
  • ‘It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light’

NEW YORK: Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to a total of three years in prison on Wednesday for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Trump’s 2016 election campaign and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously. The judge set March 6 for Cohen’s voluntary surrender.
Cohen pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charge in August and to making false statements in November. As part of the sentence, the judge ordered Cohen to forfeit $500,000 and pay restitution of nearly $1.4 million for the campaign finance law violations.
Cohen, 52, had walked into court on Wednesday morning with his wife, son and daughter, amid a crowd of photographers and reporters.
The sentencing capped the stunning about-face of a lawyer who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump but has now directly implicated the president in criminal conduct. The three-year sentence imposed by the judge was a modest reduction from the four to five years recommended under federal guidelines, but still underscored the seriousness of the charges.
“While Mr. Cohen pledges to help in further investigations that is not something the court can consider now,” Pauley said.
Federal prosecutors in New York charged that Cohen, just before the November 2016 election, paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 and helped arrange a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet about their past relationships with Trump, who is married. Trump denies having the affairs.
Prosecutors have said the payments violated campaign finance laws. Cohen told prosecutors the payments were directed by Trump, implicating the president in a possible campaign finance law violation.
Federal law requires that the contribution of “anything of value” to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.
“It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” Cohen told the judge during the sentencing hearing.
“I felt it was my duty to cover up his own dirty deeds,” Cohen said, referring to Trump.
Cohen was sentenced on the separate charge of lying to Congress brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election and possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Cohen pleaded guilty to that charge last month.
“He came forward to offer evidence against the most powerful person in the country,” one of Cohen’s lawyers, Guy Petrillo, told the court on Wednesday, arguing for leniency. Cohen cooperated knowing “the president might shut down” Mueller’s investigation, Petrillo said.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has accused Mueller’s team of pressuring his former aides to lie about him, his campaign and his business dealings. Russia has denied US allegations of interfering in the election to help Trump.
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Trump denied the payments were campaign contributions. “If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did,” Trump said.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has argued the hush payments cannot be considered campaign finance violations because they were made to protect Trump’s reputation and would have been made even if he had not been a presidential candidate.
In his guilty plea to Mueller’s charge, Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the timeline for discussions about plans for real estate businessman Trump’s proposed skyscraper in Moscow. The project was never built.
Cohen said in written testimony to two congressional committees that the talks ended in January 2016, before the first electoral contests to select the Republican presidential nominee, when they actually continued until June 2016 after Trump clinched the Republican nomination.