Imran Khan and his party have experienced a significant decline in political standing. They have transitioned from leading the government to facing imprisonment within a span of less than two years. However, the PTI remains steadfast in its belief that it can emerge victorious in the upcoming general election in Pakistan. They believe Imran Khan’s imprisonment and disqualification won’t keep the party from winning. Their strong determination is vivid in robust social media campaigns and the nomination of new candidates for contesting elections. They have done this to counter the crackdown perpetrated by state authorities.
The Woman of Will
In Sialkot, Rehena Dar finds herself propelled into the political arena in her seventies. She confidently expressed her allegiance to Imran Khan and the PTI amidst the cheers of her supporters. After ECP decided to remove the party’s symbol, she faced the challenge of campaigning without a recognizable emblem. This decision, although seemingly insignificant, poses a significant obstacle in a country with a literacy rate of 58%.
The PTI continues to face numerous hurdles as it prepares for the election on February 8th. But it remains resilient in its determination to fight for victory. Whether it’s candidates like Mrs. Dar pounding the streets or innovative technology facilitating virtual rallies, the party demonstrates its willingness to deploy all available resources in the electoral battle.
In the past election, Mrs. Dar’s son, Usman, played a prominent role in the PTI’s campaign efforts. However, his public statement accusing Imran Khan of orchestrating riots led to nationwide protests and further challenges for the party. Despite these setbacks, Mrs. Dar remains resolute in her support for Khan and critical of her son’s actions.
Digital Electoral Campaigns
Some PTI candidates, like Atif Khan, continue to campaign despite being in prison or hiding from authorities. Utilizing video broadcasts and social media platforms, they strive to reach voters and convey their message. Because they recognize the importance of engaging with the young electorate through digital means. Social media plays a crucial role in the PTI’s campaign strategy. It enables direct communication with millions of followers and facilitates voter engagement.
Efforts are also made to assist voters in identifying PTI-backed candidates in the absence of the party’s cricket bat symbol. Despite the challenges and obstacles faced by the PTI, it remains determined to persevere and mobilize support for the upcoming election.
Another challenge emerged regarding the organization of rallies. In Pakistan, there is a close link between political dynamics and individual personalities. Imran Khan, the revered former cricketer turned politician, was one of the most influential figures capable of drawing large crowds to his rallies. However, he currently resides in jail, where he has been since August, facing a likely sentence of 14 years following recent convictions. The PTI has also encountered obstacles in arranging rallies. In late January, police resorted to tear gas to disperse hundreds of PTI supporters in Karachi, citing a lack of proper permissions for the gathering.
Virtual Campaigns: Challenges and Limitations
To address these challenges, the PTI has turned to virtual rallies as a solution. According to Jibran Ilyas, head of PTI social media, virtual rallies offer a cost-effective, secure, and expedient means of disseminating their message. But these are less impactful compared to physical rallies. However, the absence of Imran Khan’s presence poses uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of such rallies.
Efforts to leverage technology for online campaigning have encountered limitations, including instances of internet disruption coinciding with PTI rallies. Additionally, the relatively low percentage of active social media users in Pakistan suggests inherent constraints on the reach of online campaigning efforts. This situation mirrors past instances, such as incarceration of Nawaz Sharif during the previous election.
Many political analysts, including Michael Kugelman, attribute these challenges to the influence of Pakistan’s powerful military, which played a significant role in Imran Khan’s rise to power. Despite employing each setback as motivation, the PTI faces skepticism regarding its electoral prospects, with media coverage predominantly focusing on Imran Khan’s legal troubles.
The PTI grapples with the task of inspiring its support base to participate in the electoral process amid mounting challenges. While some within the PTI remain optimistic about the possibility of a miraculous victory through high voter turnout, skepticism persists among voters regarding the party’s chances of success.