- Title: IRAQ: Election campaign shifts to cyberspace
- Date: 4th March 2010
- Summary: AL-ALOUSI BROWSING HIS FACEBOOK PAGE CLOSE OF REPLY BEING WRITTEN ON FACEBOOK PAGE
- Embargoed: 19th March 2010 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Communications,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAEZUTG4ZZQC83FGSKGNV8N2EW7
- Story Text: Almost every inch of Baghdad's streets is covered with colourful posters featuring photos of candidates, faces beaming, some wrapped in the Iraqi flag, others raising their fists high.
Women, some in Western suits and heavy make up, others wearing Islamic veils, are also campaigning hard.
Controversially, some of the wealthier election groups headed by incumbent politicians are giving voters gifts or paying for expensive hotel stays, fuelling accusations that state resources are being used to back their campaigns.
Maliki's election rallies are often shown on state TV.
The March 7 vote is Iraq's second major full national ballot since the 2003 U.S. invasion. The new government will handle multi-billion dollar oil deals and disputes over major swathes of territory, making a seat at the political table essential.
Cheery campaign jingles belie the huge task ahead as Iraq tries to cement its young democracy, bolster fragile security gains and rebuild after decades of war and sanctions. Some politicians have co-opted musicians to produce campaign songs urging Iraqis to vote for them.
"Yes, I will vote and defy terrorism despite swords that fought me. As long as my country needs this voice, I have to vote for the one who loves me," says one.
Singers and lyric writers said that some of the political parties were paying huge amounts of money to have a song tailored to their own election programmes.
"It is true that there are parties which finance (production) companies. Days ago when I was sitting in the studio, a man from one of the parties came in and bought two songs for 10 thousands dollars, I mean 10,000 dollars for each song," said Muntazer Hanoon al-Nassiri, singer and lyric writer of "I will vote".
Nassiri said that one of the parties running for the election has approached him, offering to buy his song after making some changes.
"They (the parties) pay gigantic amount of money only to get the number of the slate and the number of the candidate mentioned in a song. I, among many others, have been offered huge amount of money for my song: "I will vote. Yes, I will vote and defy terrorism" . I have been offered huge amounts of money in presence of other people on the condition that I mention the number of the party that heads the list. They also told me that if I agreed to replace the word "terrorism" with the word "difficulties" lets say, they would finance the song. But I refused and told them that I have already finished the shooting of the song. I tried hard to get rid of them"
As the latest tool in the battle for hearts and minds before Iraq's March parliamentary vote, social networking sites Twitter and Facebook, and video clip Website YouTube, have joined the traditional weapons of Iraq's election campaign armoury alongside gaudy posters, slogans, songs and TV adverts in what is gearing up to be a fierce competition.
Some 19 million of Iraq's 30 million people are registered to vote but relatively few have access to a computer with an internet connection. Those who do are an important element, said secular Shi'ite politician Iyad Jamal al-Deen.
"We have a special office to follow up our sites on the net and answer queries of the citizens and know their real problems. Every politician should have more than one channel of information so as not to be a hostage of the person who has information. We have more than one communication channel and one of these channels is the Facebook and we have a special office to handle this affair," said Deen, a secular Shi'ite who wears religious clothing and heads the small Ahrar coalition of Shi'ite and Sunni parties Iraqis have found the Internet a relatively cheap platform for election advertising, but its effectiveness in a country where relatively few people have access to a PC is debatable.
This has not stopped those with access being bombarded with e-mails, or top politicians joining social networking sites.
Facebook features several senior Iraqi politicians' profiles, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, former premier Iyad Allawi and Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.
The profiles, created by campaign managers or supporters -- or enemies in the case of one allegedly bisexual lawmaker -- list their achievements and are updated with campaign news and carry videos and photos of them among their supporters. Mobile phone and internet users are being bombarded with text messages, emails and invitations sent on Facebook, with regular updates and political views and programmes.
Moreover, campaigning for votes on the Web is an effective way to reach out to the young and plugged-in voters, or the ones living abroad, estimated at about two million, some poll candidates say.
"Undoubtedly, the Facebook is very important. It provides a quick means of communication with the Iraqis who are living in Australia, New Zealand or Canada . We can communicate with them as if they are living in their country and as if we are living among them,"
The Internet is also an economical way to reach out to voters where the cost of conventional campaigns, which include daily advertisements, billboards, television spots, gifts and sumptuous mounds of food at rallies, are in the hundreds of millions of dinars.
"We use all the internet sites, including the Facebook and other advanced means of electronic communication because they are free of charge. They only need efforts to secure communication and this is what we need. We need a direct communication with the Iraqi citizens. Furthermore, the Facebook is an important channel to connect with young Iraqis," said Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alousi.
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