Election fever in Bahrain moved from street poles and walls of houses and malls to the internet, which is providing a vast arena for competition among independents and party members alike.
The majority of candidates for the third parliamentary elections on October 23rd have turned to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to promote their electoral platforms. Additionally, candidates are disseminating campaign advertising through popular smart phones services, such as Blackberry's messenger service.
Bahrain had 170,000 Facebook users out of 175,000 internet users by the end of 2009, according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain. The number of BlackBerry users is 78,000.
More recent data from the Internet World Stats web site put the number of internet users at 649,300 as of June 2010, an 88.0% penetration rate. The same source counted 235,100 Facebook users by August 31st, a 31.9% penetration rate.
Experts say the internet offers candidates an effective medium to reach voters at low costs and fast speeds.
Fatima Bou Hassan, the Director of Public Relations for one of the independent candidates, said her father the candidate is now heavily dependent on Facebook and Blackberry in his campaigning.
"Election fever has become electronic, with the majority of candidates using social networking sites as an effective tool to reach the largest possible number of the voting public," she said.
Bou Hassan attributed her father's growing dependence on Facebook to the speed of information delivery to the greatest possible number of people, in addition to it being cost-free.
She wondered, "Who among the candidates could reject the notion of publishing the central themes of his campaign on an electronic website considered the most viewed in the world, as is Facebook, free of charge and reaching everyone at very high speed and directly?"
Bou Hassan said that web sites have also become effective persuasion tools in comparison with traditional advertising in the streets and high cost campaign posters on street poles that are subject to rapid physical deterioration.
Candidates turned to social networking sites and smart phones because "everyone here in the kingdom has an almost full grasp of these interactive websites, to the point that many could not do without them presently", said electronic media expert Mona Al-Mutawa.
Al-Mutawa attributed the rapid increase in the use of this type of modern communication techniques to its appeal to young people in particular, who make up the largest segment of Bahraini society.
"Every candidate dreams of entering the parliament by reaching the younger generation and gaining the votes of the people of his region through interactive means," she said.
Al-Mutawa said that these interactive sites will not be the decisive factor in the success of a particular candidate over another, but will contribute significantly to the dissemination of the candidates' campaigns.
"The use of interactive sites and Blackberry is not limited to liberal or pro-globalisation candidates, but also clerics running as candidates", she added.
Al-Mutawa expects such sites to pull the rug out from under traditional election promotional tools in the future, particularly among young people eager for the newest in electronic fads.
Amina Suleiman, editor-in-chief of Bahraini electronic newspaper "Khabar Ajil", said that "a large segment of citizens, mostly young people, come to rely on Facebook, BlackBerry, and both interactive and news websites to get the latest updates on the parliamentary elections".
Suleiman said the high percentage of BlackBerry users among Bahraini citizens made it an essential means for the dissemination of electoral messages with the utmost of ease.
She added that social networking sites are attractive because they are free of charge and focus on interactive connectivity between communities. But should a fee be imposed on their use, they will become confined to a limited group of people, she said.