July 14, 2014 by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar
Kurdish society is going through a transitory phase politically and economically. People are more likely to share their political affiliation online than ever before. This is due to easy access to the internet. The newly founded social networking websites provide people with a platform to share information, engage, discuss and investigate. The traditional ways of political communication that often limited people’s engagement with different political parties throughout the world is gradually being replaced by new forms of political communication that take place online. Consequently, world leaders are eager to engage with people using social networking sites because they have understood that the future of political communication will not be solely premised on traditional forms of political communication.
During the Iranian uprising, Twitter played a monumental role and became a megaphone for protesters. A significant number of protesters politically communicated using social networking sites, but prior to protesters taking to the streets, they used Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and various online websites to vocalise their concern about the transparency and legitimacy of the Iranian elections. Similarly, for years social networking users have vocalised their scrutinisation of respective leaders within their socio-political sphere but their concerns were not heeded. As a result, while analysing the societal problems Kurdish people face, and the political situation it is important for the Kurdistan Regional Government to understand the role social networking sites play and its importance in understanding the concerns of people.
However, it is equally important to understand that access to internet in Kurdistan is limited. Although by large people within Kurdish cities have access to the internet and are avid Facebook users – villagers rarely have access to internet and more than often do not engage with politics using modern means, but rather traditional methods. Traditional methods of political communication within Kurdish society is both ambiguous and vague because the current Kurdish political establishment as we know it now is only a decade old, and prior to this the main Kurdish political parties were engulfed with civil war. Nonetheless, social networking sites plays a fundamental role in shaping the political opinions of the young and middle-aged groups of people in Kurdish society.
Kurdish politicians and those elected into office must allocate sufficient time to engage with the public while maintaining a general understanding of what the public are concerned with. More than often, we see some Kurdish parliamentary members and political figures use Facebook to make announcements, usually during election time. The same enthusiasm and spirit that they use during the run-up to election soon withers away, leaving voters disgruntled with the political system in Kurdistan. To combat this, and Kurdish politicians are advised to genuinely engage more with the public.
Whenever social networking sites are used by Kurdish politicians, it always feels like there’s inadequacy and insufficient timing contributed towards these platforms. For instance, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, who has recently started tweeting has only four tweets. None of them are engaging with his growing follower-base and similarly, the President of Kurdistan has 66 tweets, and has never engaged with his followers. However, in contrast to them the Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani has more than 3K tweets, and engages with followers more keenly. Other notable Kurdish Twitter users include Bayan Sami Rahman, KRG high representative to UK. Kurdish political parties, unlike most political parties in the West don’t have active social media presence that engages with users in a substantive way. Perhaps, the change movement’s Twitter account (Gorran) can be considered as an exception because they have become more active in generating both news, their political party views, and engage with users more frequently in recent times.
In order for Kurdish political parties, politicians and activists to be taken seriously, they have to be able to use modern forms of political communication, and engage with these platforms in a meaningful way. In withholding themselves from this, they are losing support on a platform they have not even attempted to understand. Furthermore, enthusiasm towards engaging with the public should not be exercised only in the run-up to election or other newsworthy events, but instead it should be ongoing all-year without reservations.