On April 3, the British Council Pakistan launched the full report on the findings of a extensive research that it conducted on Youth and Democracy in Pakistan.
The report called, The Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box, is a sequel of sorts to the British Council’s 2009 survey and report, Pakistan: The Next Generation.
The 2009 report has subsequently been used as a source planning document by ministries in Pakistan and in international think tanks and was covered internationally and extensively domestically.
The current report is based on a national survey with five times the sample size of the previous report.
In what is supposed to be a youth election, the report attempts to give politicians and policy makers a better understanding of what the youth is thinking and what this might mean for the immediate and distant future of democracy in Pakistan.
Based on an extensive survey taken among various youth groups across the country and using a robust research methodology, the following is what the researchers found and reported:
Young people are losing hope in the democratic system. A majority of the surveyed youth believe that almost every aspect of society, economy and politics has been affected aversely and suffered ever since the 2008 election.
The hope to vote:
Despite the fact that a majority of young Pakistanis are losing hope in the democratic process, young voters could have a pivotal influence on the election.
There are 25 million registered next generation voters, many of whom will go the polls for the first time this year.
Around 60 per cent of young people plan to vote, while another 10 per cent say they could still be persuaded to turn out on Election Day.
On all fours:
Four groups of young voters are pivotal: Urban middle class and rural lower class voters come from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, but both groups need to be inspired to play a full political role.
Conservative young men, meanwhile, yearn for someone who meets their aspirations while expressing core values.
Any party that can bring more housewives to vote is certain to prosper at the polls.
Fissures in the middle:
There are now nearly 12 million young people within the middle-class in Pakistan – young people who are more educated than their parents, marry later, live in better housing, earn incomes that have raised them above subsistence, and are connected by the media to each other and the rest of the world.
It is this middle-class generation that is expected to be pivotal in whatever change that is to appear in Pakistan.
In the 2009 Pakistan: The Next Generation Report, pessimism was a worrying trend.
In the 2013 report, the findings are significantly worse. In 2007, 50 per cent of the youth thought the country was heading in the wrong direction.
Today that figure is 94 per cent. Only 1 in 5 are hoping that their economic position will improve in the next year. Pessimism is becoming a defining trait of this generation, one that holds up across the genders and urban and rural populations.
Marked by violence:
When the youth were asked about the most important events in their lifetimes, they didn’t point towards a positive event or collective achievement.
Rather, it was the earthquake, the floods and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (which tops the list).
More worrying, a quarter of all young people have been directly affected by violence, or witnessed a serious violent event (in rural areas the incidence is twice that of urban areas). In FATA that figure is 62 per cent.
Seventy-two per cent of young people do not believe that life is safer for most people in Pakistan compared to the past. In the Global Peace Index, Pakistan ranks 149th of 158 countries.
Growing old not rich:
Since 1947, Pakistan’s population has grown by five times (from 35 million) and by 2060 Pakistan’s population will be 285 million (61 per cent growth).
Today only 8 million people are over the age of 65. By 2060 that figure will be 40 million and start rising steeply then on.
By the time a baby born today grows old, Pakistani’s aged 65 and above will outnumber those under 18. Pakistan could thus become the first country to grow old before it becomes rich.
Currently two thirds of Pakistani children fail to get enough food to grow normally, with one in five being severely stunted.
Of the middle class yout,h 57 per cent worry about their access to consumer goods and 76 per cent about fuels for cars and motorcycles.
Faith in divinity – and military:
Sixty-four per cent of the male youth describe themselves as conservative/religious, whereas 75 per cent of women feel the same.
Only a quarter of urban young people have an interest in politics. Three quarters of the youth who expressed an opinion in the survey worry about exposure to foreign media, films, music and ideas.
Young people from urban areas were most worried about foreign influence.
Youth with access to cable TV were less conservative than those who only had access to terrestrial (conversely, terrestrial watchers were more optimistic than cable viewers).
Owners of mobile phones are more likely to want to vote, more interested in politics and more likely to believe they can change Pakistan.
The survey suggests that this may be the most conservative generation thus far in Pakistan, especially compared to the generations that grew up before the 1990s.
There are very low approval rates for the government, national assembly, provincial governments and assemblies, and for political parties (the lowest).
Other institutions: religious, media, military and judiciary have high approval rates, with the sole exception of the police which is unfavourable.
When asked about the best political system for Pakistan:
Twenty-nine per cent believe in democracy as a system and the reasons for their preference is economic growth, ensuring access to water, electricity, gas and education.
Thirty-two per cent believe in military rule. Those who believe in military rule think it can best provide security, internal and external, and also defend against Pakistan’s foreign enemies.
Thirty-eight per cent believe in Islamic Shariah because they think it will best advance moral and religious values. They also favour it because they believe it will better religious tolerance and ensure fairness.
Opportunities for Politicians:
13 million new first time voters from the survey. 25 million registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years of age. Only 40% are certain to vote, whereas 21% are undecided. Anyone who can manage to bring out the undecided’s will have a significant advantage.
Just a 10% increase in youth turnout would mean an additional 2.5 million more votes on election day, quite significant for marginal constituencies.
In Pakistani families across the board, the most educated are those below the age of 30, giving a unique opportunity for parties to address them who may look beyond traditional voting parameters.
Most young people believe political parties haven’t done enough to communicate with them. In this election from the survey if politicians are to court the young they will need to reach out to them as a separate bloc, give them a strong economic agenda, address their feelings of insecurity and talk convincingly about values.
The Connected Middle Class: They are eiight per cent of the next generation. Committed to democracy, think corruption is a major issue. They are increasingly looking for opportunities outside Pakistan (a quarter want to emigrate permanently, another quarter would like to live abroad for some time).
Marginalised Rural Labourer: 15 per cent of the next generation, predominantly in unstable work, worried about gas, electricity and water. For them terrorism in not a major issue, jobs and prices are. Eighty per cent say they are likely to vote, but their decisions are based on family and landlords.
The Conservative Backbone: 15 per cent of the next generation, mostly urban, highly educated and aspirational. They have a distinct generational identity and believe they can change Pakistan, 98 per cent are proud of it. Sceptical of democracy, more likely to favour Sharia. Value integrity and economic expertise.
Char Divari Housewives: They make up a third of the next generation. Mostly disconnected from the outside world, apart from day time television. Disengaged from politics, are unsure if they are even on the electoral rolls (70 per cent are in fact on the rolls). Anyone who can reach them politically can potentially secure a big dividend because so many are undecided when it comes to voting, and crucially when it comes to who to vote for.