Digital media outlets peddle misleading news about Swat by-election

Polls took place on 26 June

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Claim: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the recent by-election in Swat by defeating a “13-party coalition of PDM [Pakistan Democratic Movement] single handedly”. 

Fact: There were four candidates in the Swat by-election, including one each from the PTI, the Awami National Party (ANP), and the Tehreek-e-Inqelab Political Movement (TiPM), as well as an independent. The PTI candidate, Haji Fazal Maula, won but he did not defeat a 13-party coalition of the PDM.

On 26 June 2022, Twitter user @NiaziEman posted a picture featuring former Prime Minister Imran Khan and text that reads, “PTI Wins Swat By-Election, Defeated 13-Party Coalition of PDM Single Handedly.” The Pakistan flag is visible in the top-left corner of the photo.

@NiaziEman — who joined Twitter in May 2020 and has posted just under 800 tweets to date — also tweeted another picture carrying the text, “Joint Candidate Of 14 Parties Including ANP, PPP, PMLN, & JUIF Has Been Defeated Single-Handedly By PTI In Swat By-Election.” This image features Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) president Maulana Fazlur Rehman. 

The second tweet was captioned as follows:

“In Swat, Murad Saeed defeated the PDM’s 14-party alliance in a historic defeat. The Pakistani nation has rejected the imported government and those who brought this imported government. General Bajwa.”

Fact or Fiction?

Polling for the PK-7 Swat by-election was conducted on 26 June, with PTI’s Haji Fazal Maula, Khan Nawab of the ANP, Daulat Khan of the TiPM, and the independent candidate, Muhammad Ali Shah, in the running. According to the unofficial results announced the next day, Maula secured over 17,000 votes and won.

The by-election was conducted for the seat previously held by ANP MPA Waqar Ahmad Khan, who passed away on 30 April 2022.

Soch Fact Check found that Facebook page ‘Pakistan Republic’ posted the image featuring Imran Khan on 26 June 2022 with a caption that reads, “PTI Wins Swat By-Election, Defeated 13-Party Coalition of PDM Single Handedly,” while ‘Policy Pursuit’ on 27 June 2022 posted the image featuring the PML-N, PPP, and JUI-F leaders with a caption that reads, “Joint Candidate Of 14 Parties Including ANP, PPP, PMLN, JI & JUIF Has Been Defeated Single-Handedly By PTI In PK-7 Swat By-Election.”

 

Soch Fact Check found that one of the sources of the misleading claims was the headline of an ARY News report, also available on its Urdu website here, which stated, “سوات میں پی ٹی آئی نے میدان مار لیا۔۔12 جماعتی اتحاد کو شکست [PTI wins in Swat, 12-party alliance defeated].” The body of the report stated, “As per details, PTI has beaten the 12-party alliance of PDM.”

The PDM was formed by various opposition parties in 2020 during former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tenure.

The PDM was never an electoral coalition, but rather a movement aimed at removing Khan from power. The current administration, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, includes parties that were members of the PDM. However, the new government may be better described as a PML-led coalition, not a PDM coalition.

The PDM did not contest the Swat by-election as an electoral coalition and only one candidate — the ANP candidate — was from a party that was affiliated with the PDM.

In addition, the PDM did not comprise 13 or 14 parties at the point when Shehbaz Sharif assumed power. The movement was initially made up of 11 political parties, with three other parties — including the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM P) — joining later. However, the JUI, ANP, and PPP had left the PDM by April 2021, meaning that the movement comprised 11 parties at the time Sharif took power.

Swat, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s Malakand division, has a total of seven tehsils, including Babuzai, Barikot, Bahrain, Charbagh, Kabal, Khwaza Khela, and Matta. Soch Fact Check reached out to Syed Anwar Shah, a journalist in Swat who has worked for the BBC in Pakistan. Shah said the by-election in question took place in the PK-7 constituency of Kabal tehsil.

According to Shah, over a dozen candidates had initially submitted nomination papers but several later withdrew out of respect for Waqar Ahmad Khan, the late ANP lawmaker who last held the seat.

Soch Fact Check obtained a copy of the results from Shah, as well as another reporter, which allowed us to confirm that just four candidates ran in the by-election.

Virality

Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the seven-day period from 23 to 30 June 2022 using the following search terms:

  • “Swat Imran Khan”
  • “پاکستان تحریک انصاف سوات PDM”
  • “سوات کا وہ حلقہ جو 2018 میں ANP نے اکیلے جیتا تھا آج وہ 14 جماعتوں کی حمایت ہونے کے باوجود نہ جیت سکی”

The first search term was the most popular on Facebook and Instagram, It received 25,869 interactions across 201 posts on Facebook and 14,958 interactions across 10 posts on Instagram.

The second and third search terms turned up 29 Facebook posts with 4,686 interactions and 37 Facebook posts with 21,264 interactions, respectively.

Posts by Facebook pages ‘Dekhlo Pakistan’, ‘Mian Muhammad Ahmad Wattoo میاں محمد احمد وٹو’, and ‘Pakistan Republic’ were shared over 500 times, while Instagram posts by @republic.pk, @meganews.pk, and @inflics received over 6,900, 4,400, and 404 likes, respectively.

This verified Twitter account, as well verified Facebook pages ‘Sajid Khan’ and ‘Fateh Ullah Khan’, also shared the misleading information.

Conclusion: Contrary to viral claims, PTI did not defeat a 13- or 14-party PDM coalition in the Swat by-election. PDM did not contest the by-election as an electoral coalition. There were four candidates in the running, including one from the ANP, a party which was at one point a member of the PDM. PTI’s Haji Fazal Maula won the polls.

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