As local government election campaigns heat up around Kyrgyzstan, some candidates are looking to social media as an additional platform for political battle and drawing voter attention. Candidates and parties in Kyrgyzstan have begun to recognize the power of social networks following the 2010 revolution. But so far, it seems few candidates are willing to embrace Facebook and Twitter as a campaign tool and dive in head first.
Politics and social networks first came into focus in the county during the 2010 parliamentary elections—and again during the 2011 presidential elections—when candidates hired bloggers to promote their election platform via Facebook, Twitter and similar social networks, according to Radio Free Europe. Statistically, in 2011 the number of Facebook users in Kyrgyzstan was about 50,000 people, and more than 1,500 on Twitter. Even still, only about one third of Internet users in Kyrgyzstan have social media accounts, according to the M-Vector Consulting Agency.
A school employee hangs a sign denoting “Polling precinct No. 7395” October 25 in Chaldovar village, Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is preparing for local elections in late November. [Maksat Osmonaliyev, Central Asia Online]
For this election, there are 23 parties that have applied to participate. But a search shows that only about seven use social media for campaigning. The most active parties generally use Facebook for campaigning and only rarely use Russian services like Odnoklassniki и Moi Mir. But according to the media expert Igor Shestakov now there are almost no examples of fruitful dialogs between politicians and electorate on the web, although the majority of social media users live in Bishkek.
In many cases, candidates use their own personal Facebook profile as a campaign tool (as opposed to making a new page), automatically turning their friends, colleagues, and relations to political supporters. Candidates for city councils have from 500 to 3000 friends on Facebook. For example, the youth activist Mirsuljan Namazaliev, the candidate of “For life without barriers” party, has 426 friends while former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, the candidate of “Respublika”, has 4,899. Some parties create separate pages on Facebook and post both party information and candidate information. But only a few pages have seen any real political dialog with the electorate. The parties Zamandash and Ata-Meken, for example have nearly 4,000 and 2,000 likes (or friends) respectively, while other parties, like Ata-Jurt, only have a lonely 25.
Daniyar Derkembaev, a well-known Kyrgyz publicist and Facebook user, said that the level of communication with the electorate through the Internet is in a sad state. “It shows increasing backwardness of party leaders, debility in work, and neglect to voters”.
Derkembaev says that Internet gives candidates a lot of opportunities for PR, but politicians are still hesitant to embrace any mediums for fear of being exposed; online, it’s easy to trace all their promises. “It’s possible in social media to ask the candidates everything,” Derkembaev wrote via Facebook.
Perhaps one potential hotbed of political debate could be Diesel.elcat.kg, an online forum where users can discuss almost anything. Here political junkies and concerned citizens can ask just about anything to or about political parties or candidate. But just because they ask doesn’t mean they will be answered. Anonymity is common on the site, and the forums are often used as a platform for disinformation, retribution and showdowns between anonymous party members.
Ermek Niyazov, one of the candidates for city council deputies, believes that Kyrgyzstan social media is not yet a viable platform for dialog with voters. “On social networks an emphasis is placed on negatives, and concrete proposals disappear into the background. I think that parties must interact with electorate in a different way,” he said via Facebook.
However, even if social media is ready for the political mainstream this campaign, social networks are still expected to play a big role in Kyrgyzstan during and after the elections. In the past, there have been many cases when election observers and party activist have shared videos on local social network like Namba.kg and Blive.kg showing instances of election violations, resulting in further investigations by authorities.