Can the Bulging Pakistani Youth Become Agents of Change in 2018 elections?

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It’s the election year in Pakistan and everyone is ready to stretch their democratic muscle and cast their votes in the General Elections 2018. In every democratic country, an election year tends to be the busiest year for political parties. And of course, this holds true for Pakistan as well. The people who will elect the 2018 a ss embli e s wi l l be different from those who chose the ones that will go out of business by the end of May. For the first time in the countr y’s electoral history, the coming elections will be dominated by th e aspirations of the very young in the country. Between 20 and 22 million young people will have the right to cast their vote for the very first time. They would have reached the voting age since the elections of 2013. According to the Election commission of Pakistan, in 2013 out of the 84 million total registered voters 16.2 million (20 percent) were in the a e bracket of 18-25 and another 23.8 million (28 p e r cent) under 35. After the revision of Electoral Rolls in 2017, the total number of voters in Pakistan has jumped to 97 million. The plausible assumption is that the over whelming majority of new voters is the young population. This youthful voting bloc holds the key to define and determine their right to be governed democratically in Election-2018.

Since Pakistan is a democratic state, where every citizen has a right to education, to a reasonable standard of living, and in choosing and influencing the political leadership, the youth too must be entitled to an equal right to political participation. This is the way forward for the development of the country. But currently, their voice is largely unrepresented in the political system. Since the breakout of recent political upheavals in Pakistan, youth has been active, predominantly through political movements, rather than engaging with or working as part of political parties.

It is said, and rightly so, that politics is the name of possibilities. In his last speech, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Mr. David Cameron said that by politics you can achieve a lot of things; one of them is public service. There must be a fair electoral system in place if a real change through a ballot is desired. Had the slogans of Nigel Farage and Trump been ‘politically correct’ they would never have won elections. The slogans of both were quite unconventional.

In Pakistan, some 15,000 youngsters turn 18 each day and will be eligible to vote in this year’s election. A much-delayed decline in fertility levels has resulted in Pakistan becoming the second youngest country in South Asia, with nearly two-thirds of its 207.8 million population under the age of 30. This youth bulge presents an unprecedented, but time-bound, window of opportunity to Pakistan in the shape of a ‘demographic dividend’, which may not arise again for several generations. On the one hand, it means a rise in the proportion of working age population and entry of a large number of youth into labour market. If these new entrants to the labour market can be absorbed into productive activities, it will boost the income per capita and result in a demographic dividend. On the other hand, if these entrants can’t find decent work opportunities, then the youth bulge is likely to become a demographic time bomb. For Pakistan to harness the demographic dividend, it is essential to invest significantly more in human capital and job creation. In this regard, the government should prioritize improving access to quality education and creation of productive employment opportunities.

The National Assembly of Pakistan has a total of 342 members, including 60 seats reserved for women, as per Article 51. Although Pakistan fairs much better than the composition of quite a few parliaments around the world, the apathy towards encouraging women to run for general seats as well as an opposition to even encouraging participation in voting remains surprising for a country that gave the Muslim world its first woman prime minister. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also has formed a working group to suggest ways and means to enhance participation of women and Physically challenged people in electoral processes.

Women’s equal participation in politics is their basic right. They constitute nearly half of the total population of the country. Their contribution through their triple roles of productive, reproductive and community management is vital to the development of the economy and society. Their active participation in the decision making processes, determining how resources are to be used and in setting national priorities will not only improve the lot of women, it will also deepen democracy and strengthen the process of development in the country. The foregoing discussion clearly indicates that women’s political participation is not solely dependent on women’s own capabilities and capacities. The larger context of different power relationships, such as: public and private patriarchy, male domination of political parties, the masculine nature of the State, imperfect political processes and religious extremism all affect the ability of women to participate meaningfully in politics at different levels, as voters, members of political parties and as public representatives.

Political parties should play a strong role in mobilizing and facilitating women voters, including support for CNIC registration. Special attention should be given by political parties to do these in remote and vulnerable communities, and also in FATA with reference to integration of FATA. Democracies across the world have struggled to ensure equal participation of women, although the success rate has understandably not been uniformed.

Pakistan may not be the world’s largest democracy, but is certainly the world’s bravest. In October 2017, Pakistan enacted the Elections Act to end disenfranchisement of women. Although it is a constitutional right, millions of women have been de facto barred from voting through agreements among political parties, local elders, and powerful figures, using outdated customs as an excuse. While the robust female turnout in the Upper Dir by-election could generate greater voting by women there and elsewhere in the future, the Pakistan government needs to do much more to ensure that women can participate on an equal basis in the electoral process.

In Pakistan, youth accounts for the majority of the population and their role is very important to bring out political, social or economic change in the country. Same can be said for the women of Pakistan.

Manifestos are meant to provide a roadmap highlighting the unique vision of different political parties for tackling major challenges facing particular countries. Political manifestos can thus provide a tangible means for voters to assess and reward political parties on the basis of their performance, which is vital for countries like our own where democratic governance is still a fragile and evolving phenomenon. For a low-income country like Pakistan, the role of political parties and their manifestos becomes even more important because of the nature of state-citizen interaction, and the general constraints of the electorate. Women Parliamentarians have stressed for inclusive and gender sensitized election manifestoes for Elections 2018.

Over the past decade, the gradual development of a national media market has reconfigured the scope of election campaigns. One outcome of this reconfiguration is that while constituency specific factors, candidate selection, and micro-realities are of great importance, the core campaign is one based on messaging that works nationwide. People of Pakistan have shown great resilience to sustain their democracy and they genuinely expect that it must deliver good governance. The people who will elect

About Saima Zaman 17 Articles
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.