As the current political dispensation of Pakistan has entered the last constitutional year of its stipulated tenure, people and political parties have started revamping their strategies to win as many votes and parliamentary seats as possible. In this regard, the role of young men and women, both as voters and candidates, would be critical in the next national elections. Arguably, the next national elections would revolve around young men and women. Although the role of the country’s youth was quite significant in the last national elections held in 2013, but next time whenever elections would be held in the country, the role of young men and women would be extensively influential.
In the election campaign for the 2013 general elections, one of the most important developments had been the participation of a large number of young men and women in the electioneering. While we cannot ascertain what was the exact level of participation of young men and women in the voting but empirically speaking they obviously played a significant role in the whole process. In the next elections the participation of the youth would be even more pronounced. There are different reasons for this proactive role of the youth in the process of election campaigns. These causes are intricately linked to the social and economic conditions of the youths of Pakistan.
Generally the conditions for, and of, Pakistani young men and women have been extremely pathetic and there has been a strong urge within the youth to change their condition; which would drive them to take part actively and in great numbers in the next elections.
Soon after the last general elections, the British Council Pakistan, had published a very important report titled Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box. A critically important finding of the report was that “a next generation middle class is emerging in Pakistan.” This is one of the most positive developments in the country and will have a far-reaching impact on the country’s society, economy, politics and security. Democracy and the middle class have a symbiotic relationship and this is the lesson we learn from modern world history. One of the reasons due to which democracy could not flourish in Pakistan has been the significant absence of a strong middle class. As the middle class grows, it would result in more and more movements and struggles for people’s rights. In the 2013 polls, voting turnout remained relatively high by Pakistani standards. On average, the turnout was 55 percent, which was the highest since the start of the so-called democratic era in 1988. Fundamentally, this high turnout meant more participation from the middle classes, particularly by the young professionals. In the last four years, sizable numbers of young men and women have joined different professions and in the run up to the next elections more youths would have joined the professional class. Professionalism hones youth and it has a huge impact on their thought processes, including their political views. They come to know realize that regarding the political system of the country, they could not remain passive bystanders, as the political developments, particularly policymaking, carried out by government, largely impact their lives and careers. And as governments come into existence through electoral processes therefore, they ought to participate in the processes. This realization among the young men and women would increase the voter turn out in the next elections and whichever political party would be able to harness this young professional class, would gain the most electorally.
About the voting behavior of the young population the above-mentioned British Council report had found, “A small set of issues will influence the way young people vote” and that “Young voters could have a pivotal influence on elections.” I think today the most important issue is of corruption by the government and politicians which has been highlighted by the Panama case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Moreover, there are certain other youth-specific issues which would prove a decisive incentive for the young population to actively participate in the next elections. These issues include employment, educational opportunities, career development and so on. Therefore, again whichever party would promise these to the youth and the latter believes it could deliver, keeping in mind its track record, would get most of the votes of the young population.
From the results of the last general elections, for the young the main issues were educational facilities and career or economic opportunities, besides the prestige and security of the country. So these issues dominated the young voters’ preferences. This influence did not change results in a big way but has transformed the political culture of the country, which will have its impact in the next elections as the political culture has been evolving.
The most alarming finding of the British Council report was, “Young people are losing confidence in the democratic system.” However, the high turnout of voting in the elections of 2013 negated this finding to a great extent. More participation may also mean that the youth has decided to change the system and this would itself restore their confidence in the democratic system. The next general elections would be the benchmark of how much confidence the youth has in the democratic system of Pakistan.
It is important to mention that in the last elections, for the first time ever, nearly more than 50 percent of around 85 million total voters comprised of young men and women between the ages of 18-40. Of these young voters, nearly three million, constituting 34.68 percent, were below 30 years of age of which most voted for the first time. This was a healthy sign for a nascent and vulnerable democracy like Pakistan that most of its voters were young and they have started participating in the political process. Next time the young men and women, who voted for the first time would be voting for the second time and they would be joined by millions of other eligible young voters. A clear picture would emerge once the results of the recently concluded national census are revealed.
Since all the successive Pakistani governments have failed due to lack of vision and commitment to cater to the needs of the growing young population, the latter have to come forward and create conditions in which they will have opportunities. As elections are the best opportunity to create such conditions and a milieu, the young men and women of Pakistan have started realizing that they must take part in the electoral process, that is electioneering and voting, if not politics. Because in such a way they could bring in a government of their liking which then could formulate policies and devise programmes which directly benefit the youth. Taking part in the electoral process also is a short cut for the youth and it is less time-consuming and through which concrete results could be secured.
Keeping the above-mentioned dynamics of the young population of Pakistan and their possible role in the next elections, it would be interesting to see what strategies main political parties of Pakistan devise to win young voters to their side and how effective these strategies turn out to be.