Pakistani parties performing poorly at digital politics, reveals report

Islamabad (November 09, 2023):: Pakistan may be one of top ten most digitalized societies in terms of the number of people online but most of the country’s political parties are failing to keep pace with the growing needs of digital political communications that is compromising the quality of democracy and democratic discourse, a new report reveals. 

A mapping of the digital footprint of the 13 mainstream political parties analyzing basic quantitative and qualitative aspects of their political communication, conducted by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), analyzing the digital pedigree of the political classes, reveals that the political parties are woefully ill-prepared to interact with citizens who are more digital savvy and digitally immersed than leading politicians and their parties. 

“The mapping shows that there is a dearth of digital literacy among not just political leadership as a distinct class but also at the level of their party apparatuses and functionaries,” the report titled ‘Parties Online: Digitally Inadequate Political Parties Compromising Democracy in Pakistan’, says. 

“The political agenda online is dominated by parties mainly shaped by propaganda practices – and often hate speech – rather than inclusive political communications by parties that are professedly democratic but not digitally adequate in promoting inclusive and plural democratic narratives,” it adds. 

The findings reveal that Pakistan’s oldest as well as newest political parties have severe shortcomings in terms of political communication with citizens and supporters alike. This comes across starkly through the snapshot study of the parties analyzing two key online information mechanisms – official party websites and their official social media accounts, plus personal social media accounts of the top leadership of these political parties.

Launching the report, Muhammad Aftab Alam, the executive director of IRADA said that with elections now announced for February 8, 2024, the report should serve as a wake-up call that the political parties that are going to content the elections need to engage with the voters inclusively rather than one-sided discourses that accentuate negative communications denominators. 

“The digital inadequacy of our political parties is compromising the quality of democracy by strengthening non-transparency around critical details about parties and therefore ends up promoting inaccessibility to the parties by their actual and potential electorates,” Alam added.   

The questions analyzed in the report were: What is the basic digital footprint of the political parties and how do they communicate online with their members, supporters, followers and other citizens? Plus, what platforms, including social media, do they use for political communication and how successful are they in terms of their reach? 

The parties analyzed for their digital political communication practices included Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), Awami National Party (ANP), Jamiat Ulema Islam-F (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Pakistan Muslim League-F (PML-F),  Balochistan National Party (BNP), Balochistan Awami Party (BWP), Jamhoori Watan Part (JWP) and the recently created Awami Muslim League Pakistan (AMLP). 

Key findings included the following: 

Communications: For entities that pursue democratic ideals most of the political parties in Pakistan fail the test of internal transparency and external communications efficiency. Some of the parties don’t even have official websites although some of their leaders run personal social media accounts. Several parties do not even name their chief – the highest office holder – on their websites.

Constitution: Most parties do not share their constitution on their websites – so neither their members have access to information about procedures on internal elections and party structures nor do the public have access to basic information about the parties’ mission, goals and objectives or party membership criteria.

Manifestos: Most parties that have websites had uploaded their latest manifestos for the 2018 elections. However, most of the previous manifestos have disappeared, leaving citizens interested in comparative evaluation of two consecutive manifestos unable to do so.

Leadership lists: Most parties share the lists of their central leaders on their websites, but half of the parties do not share lists of the leaders of their provincial chapters even though most parties have strong provincial-level political focus.

Decision making: What is the internal decision-making process in the parties and who makes the decisions? Barely half of the parties share the lists of members of their central executive committees and general bodies. 

Documentation: Most parties are poor in archiving official party positions and decisions as most neither share minutes or details of the party’s central executive committee meetings nor minutes or details of the party’s general body meetings. This is a recipe for non-accountability as neither party members nor other party supporters can weigh a party’s democratic evolution based on leadership’s accountability to party members.

Focal persons: Only four parties shares either the name of their communication’s focal person on their websites or even official party email address. The absence of these key details amounts to discouraging direct engagement of the electorate with the parties including by both party members or voters and media.

Audit reports: Not even a single party surveyed shares either the latest or previous audited reports of the party’s accounts and finances on their websites. This lack of crucial public-interest information is tantamount to discouraging transparency and accountability on financing operational aspects of the parties.

Social media: A majority of parties in Pakistan are active on social media and maintain official Facebook pages and official Twitter accounts. It also appears that political parties prefer to use social media as the primary tool to communicate with their electorate instead of their website. Key leaders of most parties rely on social media platforms heavily to drive both party agendas and personal political communication.

Followership: Dozens of politicians in Pakistan, mostly from mainstream political parties, are some of the most active and popular citizens of the country on social media. On Twitter (now ‘X’), over ten politicians have garnered at least one million followers each, the highest being for Imran Khan at 19.6 million. —ENDS