Pakistan's young demographics and soaring use of social media platforms will almost certainly have a major impact on how political party candidates reach out to voters in general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election campaigns and outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by both domestic and foreign players. It is a fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year. Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.
There are 17.44 million voters between 18 and 25 years and 28.99 million between 26 and 35 years. These 46 million young voters, up from 41 million in 2013, will likely have the biggest impact on the outcome of the elections this year.
Pakistan's online population of over 55 million is predominantly from 18 to 35 years age group. Social media platforms will play a very important role in reaching this demographic group to bring them out to vote.
Major political parties, particularly Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are keenly aware of the importance of social media in the upcoming elections. Both parties have very active social media teams on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms.
Foreign actors may also try to influence Pakistani elections in the same way that the Russians are alleged to have influenced recent elections in the West.
Social media news feeds are driven by users' profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. Newsfeeds are customized for each user. Any posts that don't fit these profiles don't get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to promote divisions and manipulate public opinion in the West. Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation. It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan will exploit these divisions for their own ends. Various pronouncements by India's current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.
|Pakistan Voter Population by Age Groups. Source: Dawn
Punjab tops the list with the largest number of registered voters with a total of 60.67 million, 23% increase from 2013. It is followed by Sindh with 22.39 million registered voters, 18% increase over 2013.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the third largest province with 15.32 million registered voters, 25pc higher than 2013. Balochistan has just 4.3 million registered voters but it's a increase of 29% over 2013. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have 2.51m voters.
Among other notable changes in the electorate is the number of non-Muslim voters that has jumped 30%, significantly faster than the 23% growth in overall voter registration in Pakistan since the last elections in 2013, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The population of Dalits (Kohli, Bheel and Meghwar communities in Sindh) has also increased from 0.25% to 0.41% of the total national population. Together, the Hindu and Dalit population adds up to 2.14% of the total population.
Krishna Kumari Kohli recently made history by becoming the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman Senator in the upper house of Pakistan, according to media reports. Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Hindu population of the areas that now constitute Pakistan was 15% in 1931 India Census. It declined to 14% in 1941 India Census. Then first Pakistan Census in 1951 showed it was 1.3% after the massive cross-border migration of both Hindus and Muslims in 1947. During the partition, 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India from what became Pakistan, while 6.5 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan. Since 1951, the Hindu population of what is now Pakistan has grown from 1.3% to 2.14% now.
Pakistan's young electorate and soaring use of social media platforms will shape the election campaigns of major political parties in this year's elections scheduled for July 25, 2018. The use of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media apps may even make the Pakistani election outcomes vulnerable to manipulation by domestic and foreign players. It's fact that was recently acknowledged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony to the United States Congress earlier this year. Pakistani authorities will have to be on high alert to stop any attempts to manipulate the voters.
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