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Out of an electoral list of 83 million, 47 per cent of the registered voters are under 35 years of age. Will this youth bracket be the most important factor in the coming elections?

ISLAMABAD, May 15: On May 5, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan tweeted to his over 250,000 twitter followers: “To all PTI followers, esp [sic] youth, we need to increase membership drive - please move on emergency footing to add more members!”

This is part of PTI’s youth drive. Imran Khan claims that the youth will help him win the next elections. “Sixty-seven per cent of the Pakistani population is composed of the youth and they have made up their minds to vote for PTI,” declared Abrarul Haq, a recent addition to PTI and its youth representative.

According to numbers from Nadra, PTI’s math is not off. “Forty-seven per cent of the total electoral list is composed of young adults between the age of 18 and 35 - approximately 39 million people. And around 20 per cent are even in the younger age bracket of 18 to 25 years,” revealed Tariq Malik, Deputy Chairman Nadra.

“Only 8.6 per cent of our 65 per cent youth have the resources to afford college and university education, the rest are suffering on the streets,” added Mohammad Madni, Punjab youth representative for the PTI. “It is these youth who want change and have chosen to rebel against the status quo,” Mr Madni emphasised.

And if PTI’s claim has merit – that come election time, the youth will be on their side – then the numbers of the latest electoral list should be a cause for concern for other parties.

“The total voter list right now is approximately 83 million. Of these, 83 million, around 47 per cent, i.e. 39 million, are between the ages of 18 and 35.

But the most important thing to realise is that out of these 39 million people, around 30 million are those who until three years ago were simply not part of the electoral list,” explained the Nadra deputy chairman.

Electoral rolls for 2008 elections were prepared through door-to-door enumeration in 2006. These 30 million include people who turned 18 in the last three years, did not have identity cards until now or had identity cards but were not registered in the voting list. But for whichever reason, these are the youth of Pakistan who simply did not take part in the general elections of 2008.

And these 30 million, previously untested youth, can be the game changers in the coming election.

And while IRI’s latest poll shows that PTI has made it to the top ranks of political forces in Pakistan, there are no real indicators of which direction the youth are leaning in.

“I will only vote for the candidate I like, otherwise I will get my vote cancelled,” said Fatima Rasheed, a 23-year-old in Islamabad. And her friend declared: “If I vote, I will only vote for PTI because the other options are so terrible,” showing that beyond the diehard PTI fans, the youth is reluctant to fully commit to PTI.

However, while PTI has actively made youth their focus, the bigger national parties seem behind on that front.

Qamar Zaman Kaira, Federal Minister for Information, was dismissive of PTI rhetoric and when asked if PPP is specifically focusing on the youth, he replied: “We are a party of the people, we grow with the people and don’t need to focus on one segment.”

Khurram Dastagir, MNA and member of the PML-N; however, was willing to expound on their youth strategy. “Our strategy is to execute projects for the youth. In Punjab we have hired 35,000 teachers on merit and they are all from the youth. We have hired thousands of police on merit, all young people. We are funding 1.5 million deserving students through the Punjab Education Foundation. Educating youth isn’t just about holding music concerts,” he declared.

“This youth number is a major factor in the upcoming elections. And because of Nadra and ECP cross-checking the voter lists, a large number of youth who were previously not in the voter lists have been added now,” said Rasool Baksh Raees, a political analyst and professor at Lums.

“The question now is whether or not these young people will turn out to vote - my feeling is that they will. In other countries when voter turnout increased by even five to seven per cent, it would make a fundamental difference so if the voter turnout is even 10 per cent more than before in the coming elections, then this will become a critical election,” he posited.

Internationally, such a climate as is in Pakistan today has led to historic change. One example, according to Mr Raees is of South Korea where corruption in the ruling parties instigated students to initiate a resistance in the 80s and 90s eventually changing the very political scene.

“If Imran Khan can keep up the momentum, then even if he doesn’t form the government in the coming elections but remains at number two or three, he will be a significant force and might eventually lead to one of the two larger parties getting destroyed,” concluded Mr Raees.