A number of organisations can proudly share the credit for the peaceful elections in Afghanistan – a great national achievement. For example, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) ran a smooth electoral process and the Afghan National Security Forces provided good security.
But the crucial role that the Afghan traditional and social media played in promoting the elections and encouraging voters cannot be overlooked. “We cannot ignore the media’s outstanding coverage of the election process, raising public awareness and reporting on electoral irregularities,” said deputy chief of the IEC Media Commission, Hashmat Radfar.
The mainstream media and citizen journalism – using social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for news and info sharing – played a significant role. On the election day, Afghan television channels streamed live feeds from the polling centres across the country, showing long queues of voters, who defied insurgent threats and braved the weather that unexpectedly turned cold and rainy.
Many Afghan analysts estimate that Twitter and Facebook also played significant role in the unexpectedly high voter turnout, by getting out pictures and information about long queues outside voting centres and security arrangements.
“The social media was instrumental in raising awareness about the elections, bridging the gap between the voters and their favourite candidates, and acting as unofficial election observers,” Sayed Zaker Hashimi, a Kabul resident, told Sada-e Azadi.
During the weeks leading up to the elections on April 5, the insurgents had increased their threats in order to prevent people from exercising their right to vote. But they were sternly rebuffed by over seven million Afghans who turned up to vote. In fact, the election proved to be more of a referendum against the insurgents than electing the country’s new leadership, many political analysts commented.
Deutsche Welle quoted Reshad Ahmadi, a resident of Balk, saying, “I know my picture on election day will stay on the Internet for a long time. It could create problems for me, but I am not scared of that.”
For Afghan journalists, the election brought a sense of national duty, wrote New York Times, “It started with exhaustive coverage in the months before the voting, with television channels broadcasting a barrage of discussions, debates and commentaries, and heavily emphasising the importance of a high turnout by voters.”
In the run up to the elections, Pajhwok Afghan News started a picture campaign on Twitter, showing groups of Afghans holding placards that read: “Yes, I will vote,” an idea which was quickly taken up by others. “The broad coverage of the election process for the last three months played an important role in bringing awareness to people and encouraging them to participate in the election,” Danish Karokhel of Pajhwok told New York Times.
A local journalist from Paktia also told the newspaper, “The people are tired of war, and they cling to any string of hope. We gave them that string of hope with our positive coverage.”
Hundreds of pictures of social media users, posing with their voter cards, were published and retweeted up to the election day. For instance, Ashraf Haidari tweeted, “Yes, we will vote and march ahead in our just struggle for a peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous Afghanistan...”
On the polling day, social media activities grew with every passing hour, users posting pictures of long lines of enthusiastic voters and ink stained fingers on Facebook and Twitter to encourage others to vote.
The social media users also acted as unofficial election observers. As people went voting, the Internet-savvy Afghan youth took their smartphones with them to report on electoral violations.
The general will to participate in the political process is an indicator that in the future. Afghan youth can be expected to play their role in the democratic process