As the third parliamentary elections are nearing, politicking is heating up per diem. Politicians – veteran and aspiring – are at full throttle already promoting their candidature.
This time round, though, campaigning has taken a shift. There will of course be speeches and meetings and visits to the constituencies, once the Election Commission of Bhutan officially declares the election period. But politicians are increasingly using social media, particularly Facebook, Wechat, and Twitter to reach to the electorates.
The 2018 election will be billed as the Internet election, the social media election – with much attention focused on how campaigners, commentators and voters would respond to ground breaking digital campaigns. From Twitter to Facebook, through viral crowd-sourced election advertising, sentiment tracking and Internet polling, technology appeared to offer political parties powerful new ways to engage voters and audiences. And there are high hopes that these new forms of personal expression through social networks would widen participation and the range of democratic voices.
Social media or social network services are commonly described by means of their interactive and networking features that let users interact, create, communicate, and share content. Faster Internet connectivity coupled with cheap smart phones, and the sizeable number of young voters has come as boon to the politicians to seize bigger vote bank.
The past few months saw proliferation of individual and fan pages of politicians and parties. All the four political parties have fan page on Facebook with increasing fan following. The potential for political parties to connect, communicate, mobilize, fundraise, and affect the news agenda through social media are some of the strategic reasons why political parties are increasingly performing online politics. A team of former journalists and dedicated supporters regularly post updates on the pages.
There are several Facebook pages where members discuss issues including politics; One such page of Bhutanese News and Forums.
The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) also has a Facebook page where it updates election-related notifications.
The ECB defines social media as online and mobile communication, collaboration, sharing or publishing platform, whether accessed through the web, a mobile device, text messaging, email or any other existing or emerging communication platform used to publish and interact with the wider public or individuals, generally by means of the Internet, web-based interfaces or cellular technology.
According to the ECB’s regulation, any communication via telephonic means, including individual or bulk SMS or the internet including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, GooglePlus, blogs, websites, personal or official, individual or entity, textual or graphics shall be determined as political advertising if the content pertains to elections, political views or positions, or in any way can be understood to be in support or against a candidate or party contesting
Bhutan has a large youth population. Politicians have now realised the importance of social media and indispensible campaign tool. Social media allow politicians to directly respond and communicate with voters, which makes it a lot easier for the voters decide which party to vote for.
However, politicians and political parties should know how to use social media effectively within the limits of the election laws.
According to the ECB’s social media regulation, candidates and political parties shall be required to submit the addresses or links of the social media being used for election campaign to the Commission. During the blackout period (48 hour period before poll and until the close of polls), no one shall publish, broadcast, or transmit any item that is of the nature of election campaign supporting or opposing any political party or candidate.
The restrictions also apply to Internet advertising even if it is claimed to be “free”. However, an Internet advertising published before and not altered during the 48-hour no-campaign period can remain posted as long as no further electronic distribution of that advertisement is carried out.
(The writer is a freelance journalist.)