This post is part of our Special Coverage Pakistan Votes 2013.
As Pakistan nears its first democratic transition of power with the country's historic elections only days away, social media is empowering Pakistanis to take a more active role in the vote.
Elections in Pakistan are a tense affair. The five-year tenure of the democratically elected Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government is set to end with elections on May 11, 2011. Nearly every time elections were held in the past, parties have hurled accusations of rigging and misconduct at each other, giving way to violence.
But unlike the past, when the average Pakistani had to rely on the mainstream media to gather first-hand news and form their opinion, social media has changed things. There is an increasingly informed portion of tech-savvy populace which is using Facebook and Twitter.
Two new online platforms in Pakistan are attempting to use social media to monitor the upcoming elections for irregularities and violence as well as to inform the public about the electoral process.
Pak Votes (English, Urdu) is an election monitoring citizen journalists platform. It is an initiative that aims to highlight the voice of ordinary citizens through citizen media to generate an alternate narrative of 2013 electoral contest.
Using social media tools, it encourages openness by citizen participation and tries to provide timely and reliable information. The focus is to increase the people's ownership of the democratic system.
The innovative citizen journalism portal aims to empower the common people to voice their opinion on the upcoming elections, cite any Code-of-Conduct violations before, during and after the upcoming elections, and also report incidents of violence or rigging.
The project has trained 40 field monitors from the most remote and most violence-prone areas around Pakistan. These field monitors are reporting election problems in real-time to the platform from remote regions, which are generally ignored by the mainstream media. These reports are mapped here.
For example, a PakVotes-trained citizen journalist from Quetta, Balochistan has reported:
Most women don’t even have their NIC cards with them. Either they never had an ID card made, or their husbands or fathers have them. This essentially forces them out of the voting process and so, they get to have no say in the electoral process.
Rather tragically, there are two elections being contested in Pakistan. One is an election that is focused on rhetoric and a “New Pakistan”. The other, the election that the ANP is contesting, raises the issue that in order for there to be a “New Pakistan”, the State of Pakistan must continue to exist. And it is that Pakistan which is under attack.
The project can be followed on Facebook and on Twitter (@pakvotes). If you are in Pakistan and witness violence in any form, report it to PakVotes by sending an SMS to 0334-40-2222-4, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply tweet to @PakVotes.
This platform allows Pakistani citizens to learn about elections and the electoral process via social media in order to urge them to get out the vote. Pak Voter provides information and links for informed voting decisions, while offering the information in a neutral and apolitical way.
This process does not begin and end with elections — it is an ongoing endeavor and would require constant and long-term engagement of Pakistanis to not only vote, but remain active after elections and hold the winners accountable to their mandate.
Exercising our vote is something we all must do. If we don’t vote, the people who shouldn't be in power will win. Their loyalists will vote for them. And with us not casting any, they will once more gain control. Isn't this what we are trying to change? Shouldn't we cast a vote then, if not to elect someone, then to help not elect someone who is not capable?
A @pakvoter-hosted chat on Twitter was the number one trending topic in Pakistan under the hashtag #letsvote on May 8, 2013:
@FarriRizvi (Farheen Rizvi): roads and banks are the coins of an elected govt. Elected govt shud provide security for domestic/foreign investment @pakvoter
@RJ_kulsoom (Umme Kulsoom): Don't know your polling station? Check it here today http://www.norbalm.com/pakistan-elections-urdu/ … and #letsvote on may 11. #pakvoter @pakvoter
@PakVoter (Pak Voter): It is unrealistic to not participate in the election process and then sit and criticize. you must go out and vote! #letsvote
@rraheelNJ (Rizwan Raheel): @PakVoter @faisalkapadia a single vote can tilt the balance, and it just might be your's. Use your right to choose what you think is right
@hiranazam: Vote. Even if you feel your vote doesn't count. Even if you feel it's wasted. Even if you feel the elections are rigged. Go. Vote. #LetsVote