Disinformation used in political electioneering in Punjab by-elections
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In March 2022 opposition parties in Pakistan initiated a no-confidence motion in the then ruling Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Party (PTI) and Prime Minister Imran Khan. The motion came to a vote in April 2022 and resulted in the fall of the then Government and a group of opposition parties formed a coalition and formed a government. Later, the opposition also turned its attention towards Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, also elected as a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
When Buzdar resigned, at least 25 PTI’s MPs in the Punjab Assembly changed their party and joined the opposition benches when the re-election for the Leader of the House took place on 16th April. Pakistan’s constitution allows for a seat of an MP, elected to represent one political party, to fall vacant if the elected MP votes against that party in certain key votes, including that to elect a Chief Minister (Article 63A of Pakistan’s Constitution). The ex-PTI’s MPs vote in favour of a non PTI nominee Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz was challenged in the Supreme Court. The Court decided the petition in favor of PTI and ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold by-elections in 20 general seats and 5 special quota seats, including two minority seats, in Punjab Assembly. These elections took place on 17th July 2022 and this paper concerns online traffic including hate speech during the pre-by-election period.
Before delving into the facts, it is worth mentioning that Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence, especially the targeting of Shia and Ahmadis. The sectarian rifts date back to the 1950s and 60s; the attacks on Shia Azadari processions and killings were started in 1957. Between 2001-2018, the Shia-Sunni sectarian crimes have taken the lives of more than 4,848 Shia across the country.
Social media listening tools were used to track two weeks pre-polling, poling day and one-day post-election conversations on Twitter.