PAKISTAN is an overwhelmingly young nation, with about 64pc of the population under 30. Yet our political system has largely failed to encourage young citizens to participate in the democratic process, with the result that a sense of apathy defines most young people’s attitude towards the electoral process. This does not bode well for democracy in Pakistan, and it is primarily up to the major political parties to change this worrying reality, and engage the youth in the electoral process. At a seminar held recently in Karachi on the missing youth voters of Pakistan, representatives of political parties, officials and civil society members identified a number of reasons for the youth’s disillusionment, as well as ways to address the problem. Among the reasons alienating young voters from the electoral process is the prevalence of dynastic politics, apprehensions about electoral malpractices, and the lack of student politics in educational institutions.
The PTI, which bills itself as a party of the youth, has to an extent galvanised the young voter. This has been proved by the fact that Imran Khan’s party captured the most youth votes in the 2018 elections, and that younger citizens have participated in large numbers in the party’s protests. However, when it comes to fielding younger candidates, even the PTI prefers to play it safe; in the last polls, it fielded around 17pc candidates under 35. It is a given that most mainstream parties would rather endorse ‘electables’ and ‘influentials’ than take a chance with newer, younger faces. However, for the health of Pakistan’s democratic system, all parties need to engage the youth, listen to their problems, and come up with manifestoes that address the concerns of the young population. Equally important is the fact that parties need to introduce youth-friendly policies when in power, to remove the sense of disillusionment that has enveloped younger Pakistanis. A general election is on the horizon and parties need to seriously consider how to attract the young voter.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2022