PML-N prepares new plan: use social media to win youth vote

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is to step up its social media presence, relaunch its student and youth wings and heighten criticism of ‘the establishment’ as it seeks to make itself more attractive to young voters.

Last month, party chief Nawaz Sharif set up a committee that included MNAs, party officials and IT experts to determine why Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was doing so well among young people, where the PML-N was going wrong, and how to remedy this. Following the PTI’s impressive rally at Minar-i-Pakistan last Sunday, largely attended by young people, the committee’s task has taken on even greater urgency.

Sources in the party told  that the committee, which included people with expertise in psychology and anthropology, had made recommendations on how to capture the youth vote and the PML-N was preparing to act on them.

The committee members conducted extensive surveys of young people, especially PTI supporters, over social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. According to their findings, some 20 per cent of young people support PTI, either because of strong personal feelings towards Imran Khan, or because of his focus on corruption.

PML-N Deputy General Secretary Ahsan Iqbal conceded that his party had neglected the youth vote for the last four years, allowing the PTI to capture their support. “The PPP and PML-N have both relied on their traditional voters and ignored the emerging force of young people,” he said.

The committee has suggested that the party both hone its message and make it more accessible to the young. To that end, it has recommended that it step up its presence on Facebook and other social networking sites.

At the same time, the PML-N would try to play up its credentials as the only party truly opposed to the military establishment, said the sources. Three party members, including Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, would make vocal criticisms of the military and its behind-the-scenes role in government. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif would continue attacking President Asif Ali Zardari, though “in a more sophisticated tone” than he adopted at the PML-N’s rally in Lahore on October 28, said the sources.

Iqbal said that many young people who had grown up this century thought of the PML-N and PPP as collaborators responsible for Pakistan’s ills. The “seeds of hatred” among the young were sown by Gen Pervez Musharraf, who repeatedly condemned the two parties as looters, he said.

He said that the PML-N would seek to change this perception among the 80 per cent of undecided young voters. He said many young people do have positive thoughts about the PML-N, but were reluctant to voice their support because of peer pressure as the party was “unfashionable”.

Iqbal said that the PML-N would push its image as an anti-establishment party, as young people wanted “real” change, unlike Imran Khan, who was “deceiving youth in the name of change”.

“We will give youth the message that the military establishment does not want change and this is where all the country’s problems stem from.

We want to change the civil-military imbalance and make the law supreme,” he said. “We will expose the true face of the establishment and of Imran Khan.”

He said that the party would improve its communication with young people by becoming more active on social media and by energising its youth and students wings by bringing in fresh faces.

Sources in the party said that the strategy to capture the youth vote would be presented to Nawaz Sharif for approval once he returns to Pakistan from Turkey and the UK.

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