Social media election: Digital platforms take centerstage in campaign strategy for Pakistan 2024 polls

Social media election: Digital platforms take centerstage in campaign strategy for Pakistan 2024 polls
Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan's supporters wear scarves with prints of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as they listen to a virtual election campaign on phones at Khan's PTI office in Islamabad on February 3, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 February 2024
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Social media election: Digital platforms take centerstage in campaign strategy for Pakistan 2024 polls

Social media election: Digital platforms take centerstage in campaign strategy for Pakistan 2024 polls
  • Young voters constitute 45 percent of the electorate, including about 22 million of those recently added to the electoral roll
  • Political parties say digital platforms provided them innovative ways to reach out to people and enlist their support

ISLAMABAD: Members of the social media teams of Pakistan’s major political parties said on Wednesday digital platforms were extensively utilized in the lead-up to the general elections tomorrow to influence young voters, as experts pointed out that politics and social media had become inseparable in today’s Internet age.
According to Pakistan’s election commission, young voters constitute 45 percent of the nearly 129 million electorate this year. To connect with around 73 million social media users, political parties and independent candidates leveraged digital platforms to convey their messages and sway potential voters.
This trend was particularly evident in Imran Khan’s Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which frequently complained of a lack of a level playing field, citing the arrests of its leaders and supporters in recent months that led to restrictions on its public gatherings.
As a result, the PTI relied on virtual rallies by utilizing social media platforms and, for the first time, used artificial intelligence (AI) to disseminate messages from Khan, who has been incarcerated in a high-security prison in Rawalpindi.
“To counter abductions and arrests, we initiated virtual gatherings and rallies that began from Dec. 17,” Jibran Ilyas, a key member of the PTI’s social media team, told Arab News. “These proved highly successful as many of our leaders had gone into hiding.”
He said one of the significant innovations done by his team was the use of AI to spread Khan’s message, adding it captured people’s attention in the country and was also appreciated by those living abroad.
“We used the AI technology to replicate Khan’s voice, which was highly successful, as people were eager to hear his message,” he continued.
Ilyas called the last few months a “period of adversity” for his party, though he maintained that the PTI’s digital innovations were vital to rejuvenate its supporters.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Khan’s rival political faction, was not far behind when it came to the use of social media forums.
“In this election, our primary target audience was the youth, particularly the approximately 22 million new voters who were added to the electoral list,” Abubakar Umar, a top member of the PML-N’s social media team, told Arab News.
“Therefore, we concentrated on digital platforms to connect with them, recognizing their preference for social media over newspapers or television,” he said, adding his party had placed greater emphasis on digital outreach ahead of the elections to highlight its achievements during the previous tenures.
“We made a concerted effort to enhance our social media presence,” he continued. “The feedback from our supporters had been encouraging, reflecting that our efforts were successful.”
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) digital media head, Sharjeel Inam Memon, said social media was also a key part of his political faction’s election strategy since it provided a valuable way to communicate directly with the people of Pakistan.
“It is particularly important for young, urban voters who are regular social media users and don’t always read newspapers or watch evening news bulletins on television,” he told Arab News.
Memon said the PPP used social media platforms to communicate with two key audiences.
“On the one hand, we used platforms like Facebook, TikTok, X, Instagram and WhatsApp to speak to [our party supporters], giving them information about events happening near them and opportunities to become part of the campaign,” he informed.
Other than that, Memon added, it used the social media to share messages of hope and help with struggling people in different parts of Pakistan.
Nighat Dad, executive-director of the Digital Rights Foundation, said all political parties had heavily relied on the Internet technology to promote their agendas and campaigns.
“Digital campaigning holds immense value, which became obvious during the 2024 elections, as platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are increasingly utilized by millennials and younger demographics,” she told Arab News.
“This diverse approach to election campaigns across multiple platforms has garnered sympathy for suppressed political parties and significantly influenced voter mindsets,” she added.
Asad Baig, who founded Media Matters for Democracy, maintained many people believed social media operated in a separate realm, disconnected from real-world politics.
“Pakistan boasts nearly 72.9 million social media accounts, a significant number compared to registered voters in the country,” he noted.
Baig told Arab News the majority of these individuals potentially engaged with social media in some capacity.
“Social media platforms, in particular, play a crucial role in influencing the opinions of those who are not firmly aligned with any specific party or ideology,” he continued, adding that this sizeable demographic presented an opportunity to sway voters, making social media narratives an invaluable tool for garnering support.


Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart
Updated 21 May 2024
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Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart
  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • FM Ishaq Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart Pakistan’s main concern was the safety of its nationals, especially students, affected by Friday’s violence

ISLAMABAD: Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev on Monday met Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Ishaq Dar, in Astana and assured him the Kyrgyz government would bring to justice perpetrators of last week’s mob attacks on foreign students in Bishkek, Pakistani state media reported.

Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media.

Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 600 Pakistani students have returned home via three different flights. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.

The meeting between Dar and his Kyrgyz counterpart was held in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Kyrgyz government has taken swift action to restore law and order in the country, and the perpetrators of the mob riots would be punished under the Kyrgyz law,” the report quoted FM Kulubaev as telling his Pakistani counterpart.

During the meeting, Dar shared concerns about Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan and requested Foreign Minister Kulubaev to ensure their security, according to the report.

He underlined that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence.

“Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Kyrgyz Republic, especially in the domains of energy, connectivity, trade and people-to-people contacts also came under discussion,” the report read.

“Both the dignitaries expressed satisfaction at the progress of established bilateral institutional mechanisms.”

Dar arrived in Kazakhstan on Monday to represent Pakistan at the two-day meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers. He will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output.

The organization’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region.

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.


Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations
  • A cabinet committee recognized ‘strategic nature’ of Pakistan Television Corporation, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
  • The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization, reforms in loss-making state enterprises for IMF bailout

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday sought a “viable business plan” for two state-owned broadcasting corporations, the Finance Division said, amid the South Asian country’s push for reforms in loss-making state entities.

The statement came after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises (CCoSOEs) in Islamabad, which was presided over by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb.

The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization and reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a fresh bailout program.

The cabinet committee reviewed a proposal of the information ministry regarding the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC).

“The CCoSOEs recognized the strategic nature of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and directed the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoIB) to present a viable business plan to the committee for efficient management of these enterprises,” the Finance Division said in a statement.

Under the last $3 billion IMF program that helped Pakistan avert a debt default last year, the lender said SOEs whose losses were burning a hole in government finances would need stronger governance.

To negotiate a fresh bailout with the IMF, Pakistan must implement an ambitious reforms agenda, including the privatization of debt-ridden SOEs.

Among the main entities Pakistan is pushing to privatize is its national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The government is putting on the block a stake ranging from 51 percent to 100 percent.


Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
  • Saudi king is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation, SPA reported
  • Shehbaz Sharif says King Salman sincere friend of Pakistan, guide for Muslim world

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday extended prayers for the recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation.

The treatment will consist of a course of antibiotics at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The king underwent medical tests at the royal clinics at the palace earlier on Sunday after he suffered from a high temperature and joint pain.

“I have learnt with grave concern about the health of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz. His Majesty is not only a sincere friend of Pakistan but as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a leader and guide for the entire Muslim ummah,” Sharif said on X.

“The people of Pakistan join me in praying to the Almighty for His Majesty’s complete recovery and swift return to full health.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to a large number of Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing it oil on deferred payment and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.


England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan

England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan
Updated 21 May 2024
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England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan

England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan
  • Injuries have blighted Archer’s international career and he has not played top-level cricket for 14 months
  • But he is in England squad for four-match T20 series against Pakistan, starting this week, and the World Cup

LONDON: England are eager to unleash Jofra Archer’s “fear factor” against Pakistan as the paceman prepares to return from a long injury lay-off ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup, says team-mate Sam Curran.

Injuries have blighted Archer’s international career and he has not played top-level cricket for 14 months due to back and elbow issues.

He has managed just 15 Twenty20 appearances for England since making his international debut five years ago but is in the squad for their four-match T20 series against Pakistan, starting this week, and the World Cup.

The 29-year-old has been building up his fitness by playing club cricket in Barbados and last week took a wicket for Sussex’s second XI.

“It’s incredibly exciting to have a player of his quality,” all-rounder Curran said on Monday. “I’m sure England fans and players are extremely buzzed to have him back.

“He’s obviously got that extra pace and fear factor we can bring to opposition. We all hope his injuries are behind him now.

“Jof’s had a really tough couple of years — we all hope he can come back and do what he does for England and bring the A game that we know he’s got.”

England, who are reigning T20 world champions, are desperate to find form ahead of the tournament in the West Indies and the United States after a dismal 50-over World Cup defense in India last year.

Curran is one of eight squad members who returned early from the Indian Premier League ahead of the Pakistan series.

The players had little time together before the defense of their 50-over title.

“The messaging from (captain) Jos (Buttler) and the coaching staff was they wanted to get the group back together and we probably didn’t have that last time,” said Curran.

“We’ve been apart for a while so these games are going to be really crucial. We want to be playing as a team and get used to our roles.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the group, it seems like we’re back to our energy and it seems like the boys are really fizzed about this trophy hopefully coming back.”

The first game of the four-match T20 series against Pakistan takes place at Headingley on Wednesday.


Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
Updated 20 May 2024
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Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
  • Government says it won’t end net-metering policy for solar power producers, promises to honor commitments made by companies
  • Pakistan’s energy woes stem from high capacity charges consumers pay due to long-term government contracts with power producers

KARACHI: Controversies about net-metering and imposition of a new tax have cast a cloud over Pakistan’s transition to solar energy despite the government’s ambitious plans, stakeholders said on Monday, adding the situation has left them in a state of uncertainty.

Pakistan approved the net-metering policy in 2017 that allows consumers to sell excess electricity produced by their solar systems to power distribution companies, resulting in significant savings in their monthly bills.

However, the energy ministry stirred a controversy last month by declaring that net-metering was promoting “unhealthy investments” in installation of solar power by affluent domestic and industrial consumers, hinting at cutting the buyback rates.

“Before this [controversy], people were shifting to solar [energy] in such a way that we thought that 100 percent Pakistan embraced solar energy,” Zulfiqar Ali, an importer, supplier and installer of solar panels, told Arab News on Monday.

“Now, we’re witnessing a stark contrast, a slowdown in inquiries, stagnation in projects, all amidst a talk of governmental reconsideration of solar energy policies.”

Ali said the net-metering issue had a lot of effect on the market as the purchasing groups suddenly went silent and the deals that were going on became stagnant. “The planned projects have gone into an idle position, people are neither saying yes nor no,” he added.

Recent reports published by local media about new taxes and an end to net-metering policy further compounded the situation and prompted Energy Minister Awais Leghari to explain the government’s position on the matter. 

“We completely reject these stories. The agreements our companies have made with net-metering users, whether they are for five years, six years, or seven years, will not be altered in any way and the government will not damage its reputation, nor will it cause any inconvenience to those investors,” Leghari said at a press conference in Lahore on Sunday.

He said the government was fully committed to renewable energy and solarization and was in favor of continuing the net-metering policy. 

“If, after studying it over the next few months, there is a need to revise it, it will be done very responsibly and in consultation with stakeholders,” Leghari said.

“After the approval of the entire government, if necessary, we will rationalize this. At this moment, we are committed to fulfilling all the contracts we have signed with various people. We will uphold the integrity of the entire government and move forward together.”

But despite the government’s assurances, an atmosphere of uncertainty prevails in the South Asian country with regard to solarization.

“I wanted to install solar panels at my rooftop to mitigate the impact of high electricity bills but now I am unable to take a decision because of the government’s intended moves of either taxing panels or curtailing net-metering benefits,” said Khalid Abbas, a resident of Karachi, adding that he would wait for clarity on the subject.

Solar panel suppliers said people, who were buying solar panels by selling their cars or jewelry, had stopped purchasing the equipment. 

“Residential consumers who wanted to install 5-20KW panels have stopped and are waiting for clarity,” Zulfiqar said.

Pakistan’s energy woes stem from the substantially high electricity bills, mainly due to the capacity charges that are as high as 65 percent and the nation is bound to pay these to power producers, even though their plants stand idle. 

The power purchase price (PPP), or the average per unit price based on the generation cost, is Rs20.60, which includes Rs14.09 capacity charges, and Rs6.21 fuel and variable charges, according to Pakistan’s reference tariff for fiscal year 2023-2024.

Pakistani energy experts believe the volume with which solar energy is increasing is still “insignificant” and does not even make 1 percent of the total power generation in the country.

“But the way it is going on in Pakistan, perhaps a significant portion of our net-metering will be done from it,” Dr. Khalid Waleed, an expert on energy economics, told Arab News. “Around 2,000MWs will be coming from net-metering. So, it should not be discouraged at all.”

When consumers switch to solar power, Waleed said, capacity charges are borne by other consumers that ultimately increases their power burden. 

Experts say the country won’t be able to get rid of the capacity charges before 2050 due to long-term contracts made with power producers.