Painting slogans on walls and hanging posters and banners are against the code of conduct but political parties and their candidates have coloured Facebook walls and Twitter feeds with their posts in the run-up to the election. As internet penetration increases in the country, election candidates have used social media and their own websites to push their campaigns to the public.
Harnessing the power of social media are UCPN (Maoist) leader Babu Ram Bhattarai, Nepali Congress’s Ram Chandra Poudelm and Gagan Thapa, CPN-UML’s Pradip Gyawali, Sadbhawana’s Sarita Giri and RPP-N’s Kamal Thapa.
But the winners in the race of likes and followers are Baburam Bhattarai and Gagan Thapa. As of today, Bhattarai has 101 thousand likes on his Facebook page, with his most recent post getting over 13,000 like within 20 hours. Gagan Thapa has almost 152 thousand likes on his page, 50 percent more than Bhattarai’s. Yet, on Twitter, Bhattarai has 42,859 followers, more than double of Thapa’s followers, who stand at 19,425.
Meanwhile, leaders like UCPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, NC president Sushil Koirala, UML leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and KP Oli are taking assistance of others to promote themselves in social media or piggybacking on pages of their party members. Popular posts include not just election posters but announcement of party programmes, photos of meeting their supporters and party activities.
In addition to social media, political parties are operating their own official websites and news sites. They publish activities of their party and political manifestoes, where available. The news sites are quick to point out faults of rival candidates and give priority to news relating to their own leaders. Some sites to take note of are krishnasenonline.org, ratopati.com and ratosurya.com. The advertisement spaces of these news websites flash with vote appeal for their candidates.
However, the Madhesi leaders do not seem to be very visible on online. Madhesi Janadikar Forum has a Facebook page but it has not been updated since a year. Searches on Madhesi Janaadikar Forum (Loktantrik) leader Bijay Kumar Gachyadhar and Tarai Madhesi Loktantrik Party’s Mahanta Thakur and Sadbhawana’s Rajendra Mahato do not yield any results on Facebook or Twitter.
Election campaigning on social media is a shift from the usual painting slogans on walls or hanging banners for election campaigns. This election the parties have diligently followed the Election Commission’s code of conduct which does not allow such behaviour. Election Commissioner Khem Gyawali says only few complaints of campaign materials on public spaces. However, the EC has not received any complaints of violating the code of conduct for using social media to campaign for elections.
Facebook has an estimated 3.2 million Nepali users and over 100,000 Nepalis can be found on Twitter. The internet penetration according to the last census is only 3.3 percent but mobile penetration is 64 percent. This is a population on social media that political parties cannot ignore as they head to the polls.