Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kurdish politicians use Facebook for election campaign


By Mariwan Salihi

Erbil – For the first time in Kurdistan and Iraq's history, social networking sites on the internet are used by politicians and blocs to advertise their campaigns for the country's national parliamentary elections, due to be held on 7 March.

Kurdish users of renowned social networking site Facebook are divided between for and against the campaign ads on the website.

"Facebook is nowadays used by most young people in the urban areas of Kurdistan Region, so it's useful to use the website for election ads in order to remind them of their choices until the last minute," says Mohammed, 24, from Sulaimaniyah.

The last time the nation-wide Iraqi parliamentary elections were held was in 2005. "It's good that election campaigning in Iraq has improved…back in 2005 there were no advertisements on social websites from politicians and political parties like we see them today…it is obviously a new medium for us," notes Aram Ali, 28, a computer engineer and IT expert.

Another frequent user of Facebook had another opinion. "Facebook should be kept out of election propaganda, because originally the site was established to connect people with their family and friends and not to some corrupt politicians," comments Lana, 19, from Erbil.

Prominent Kurdish politicians with election ads on Facebook include Mahmoud Othman, an independent member of the Iraqi parliament for the Kurdistan Alliance bloc, who has nearly 2,000 'fans' on the site.

The reason Othman is using Facebook as part of his campaign strategy, is to reach voters outside of Iraq.

"I didn't have the opportunity to travel abroad due to the limited time we have for the election campaign, so using Facebook was the easiest and fastest way to reach Iraqi voters in the diaspora," he tells Rudaw exclusively.

Alongside Kurdish politicians, Arab candidates are also visible on Facebook pages trying to reach as many Iraqis as possible, weather inside the country or abroad.

"When I open my Facebook account the ads of al-Iraqiya bloc ( a secular alliance headed by Iraq's former prime minister Iyad Allawi), pop out before my messages and notifications do," says Kamaran, 25, while smiling.

"It's annoying, but it also proves how strong their campaigns are, trying to reach as many Iraqis, including Kurds who usually don't vote for Arab lists," he adds.

Besides campaigning by politicians, some supporters of the various political parties and blocs participating in the elections are even fighting each other 'electronically' on Facebook.

"You see many supporters of the Kurdistani List and the Gorran Movement fighting each other on the different pages of Facebook by using dirty language," notes Barzan, 24, who has observed both sides for the last one week.

"I am glad they are not fighting each other with guns and knives, they're just having an electronic Facebook battle," he concludes while laughing.

© Rudaw