With the 2010 elections just three weeks away, the country has turned into one big camping festival with tents and the smells of grilled meat mountains of rice, all to convince, “buy” or force voters to vote for one of their constituency’s candidates.
When it comes to using technology, the last elections were the battlefield of the SMS wars, where voters were smothered by candidate announcements, greetings and congratulations and of course rumours and good ol’ fashioned backstabbing.
Now in 2010, with voters more wary of giving their phone numbers to candidates and changing their number as if it were dirty underwear every few months, candidates needed a new way to do the “announcements, greetings and congratulations and of course rumours and good ol’ fashioned backstabbing” .
Here comes the Blackberry craze into play.
With about a gazillion BB users in Bahrain, candidates and their supporters (or dissers) have been pushing broadcasts which have gone on and spread like wildfire causing some controversy [Ar]. Blackberry Messenger has also been a platform for spreading funny campaign images most notably “Bu Nimir” or “Tiger Dude” who is a candidate running in Muharraq governorate. We have yet to see if this ‘viral’ ad campaign will go in his favour.
Ban the banners
Election campaigns in Bahrain usually involve putting up posters and billboards on every main road, nook and cranny. To anyone with a design background it’s living in a nightmare for a whole month where most candidates use Powerpoint monstrosities and blow them in into 4×3 m billboards. Some are taken down for no sane reason and others get simply vandalized .
Unfortunately some candidates have found another way to stuff their ill designed campaign ads down our throats.. Through Web Forums!
The amount of blinking and beginner Flash skills and effects, may well cause epilepsy to some of you readers so be warned.
When moving the cursor over the ads to see if they are linked to other pages, shockingly most were merely static , ads to be ads – not gateways to their websites or Facebook pages..
Which takes us to..
In your face, Facebook
Like most of the world, Facebook has taken Bahrain by storm with over 237500 users to date (Facebakers.com) and only Google receives more traffic weekly.
Naturally, the more tech savvy candidates created their own personal profiles and/or started Facebook Groups and Pages (yes there is a difference between the two).
Waad’s candidates have been quite active on their Facebook Pages and linking their pages with their Waad2010 Twitter account. They have been posting all the latest developments with their campaigns and programs. The three Waad candidates’ Pages all average with 1,000 likes each.
Candidate Isa Al-Kooheji’s profile has the largest Facebook following with over 907 friends, and is one of the few candidates who owns and maintains a campaign blog http://www.isabahrain.com with multimedia content including a YouTube channel and a Flickr account.
But the most noteable user of Facebook has been MP Sami Al-Buhairi , having been in office for eight years and being notoriously quiet during those years, he has been a roaring success on Facebook.
Being on Facebook since 2008, MP Al-Buhairi had gained roughly 130 friends up to two months before the elections, where he started his Facebook campaign which lead him to gain over a whopping 817 friends at the time of writing. This means that he has been gaining 20-30 new friends daily.
MP Al-Buhairi’s web victories don’t just stop there.
Bahrain2010.com, a website dedicated in covering this year’s elections and run by Zajil Press, added a feature allowing its visitors to “vote” for their favourite candidates. Not only did MP Al-Buhairi win in his constituency but gained the most votes by any candidate on the site at 186 votes.
Women are winning the race..Online
Bahrain has yet to have a women elected into the parliament (MP Latifa Al-Gaoud has won her seat in 2006 and 2010 by default without competition), but on Bahrain2010.com’s Vote feature three women won their constituency’s seats.
Waad’s Candidate Munira Fakhro has the biggest campaign Facebook Page with over 1,746 Likes overtaking but a large margin her fellow Waad candidates Ibrahim Sharif and Sami Siyadi with 1,300 and 699 Likes respectively.
Time will only tell if all the “web warrior” candidates succeed with their use of the internet and especially Web 2.0 and Social Web applications in the elections.
If we do see candidates enter parliament because of their online campaigns and realise how powerful a tool it is to reach out to their voters, I sincerely hope that they push for legislation to regain freedom of publication online and end the arresting and alleged torture of bloggers and online journalists like Ali #Abdulemam without being charged of any crime.