November 04: Despite being active on social media platforms, youth’s electoral participation is abysmally low as compared to international democracies and unless ways to increase their turnout are devised and implemented, democracy is at the threat of being unrepresentative. These concerns were raised at a Dialogue organised by PILDAT in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan on the subject of ‘Missing Young Voters of Pakistan’ in Lahore.
Ms. Qurat-ul-Ain Fatima, Director Media Coordination and Outreach Wing & Director Protocol, ECP, shared with the participants ECP’s continuous efforts to engage and educate Pakistan’s youth of the significance of their vote. She highlighted ECP’s SVEEP programme that focuses on new voter education and registration, having conducted 443 sessions in schools, colleges and universities. To actively pursue the younger tech savvy generation, they collaborate with YouTubers and Vloggers attending seminars and workshops so that these volunteer influencers further the message of voting to their viewers. In 2018, ECP’s Protocol Wing launched their internship programme in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, offering students an opportunity to directly learn about the election process. On student unions, she remarked, “A negative connotation has been attached to student unions; a training ground for young politicians has been destroyed.”
Highlighting the reasons for youth indifference to voting, she expressed concern over the increased dynastic politics, nepotism, baradari system of voting, class and gender differences amongst the voting population. She mentioned the general lack of democratic culture and merit in political parties, wherein political candidates are nominated by party instead of being elected, discouraging politically interested youth. Some legislative efforts that would aid youth participation in electoral processes would be to implement reserved seats for youth in the Senate, National and Provincial Assemblies and to introduce elections and democracy as a compulsory part of the education syllabus.
In his welcome remarks, Mr. Abdullah Dayo, Programme Manager FES Pakistan said that FES Pakistan was dedicated to enhancing the role and participation of youth in the electoral systems of Pakistan. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan is a private German political foundation, committed to promoting social democracy around the world. The main work of FES in Pakistan focuses on cooperating with local partners in the fields of conflict management, promotion of democracy, youth development, industrial relations and regional dialogue.
Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT, in his opening remarks condemned the assassination attempt on Mr. Imran Khan, former Prime Minister, stating it as an undemocratic act. Later, in an insightful presentation on Pakistan’s Missing Young Voters he said, “If youth is not led on to democratic paths then they are under the danger of developing extremist and radical tendencies, which will be a threat to the existence of democracy within the country”. An eye-opening comparison of India and Pakistan’s youth voting trends was made by Mr. Mehboob after which he put forward examples of democracies from around the world and highlighted their innovative efforts to increase their countries’ youth voter turnout.
On the role and responsibilities of political parties and young people themselves, Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, Youth Activist, Academic & Founder-President of Haqooq-e-Khalq Party, highlighted the core problem of political parties, “Internal democracy and true representation within a political party is absolutely essential. We have to change our attitude towards young people and treat them as assets rather than a problem for law and order.” As a young activist himself he underscored the difficulties faced by young activists & fledgling politicians: “forced to keep quiet and obey, leaving them with two radical options: one where they despise politics & politicians who misuse power and the other is where young leaders abandon their free thinking and become slogan chanters and fodder for corrupt, feudal politicians. Even certain political parties, which have a heavy youth support base, have no younger representative in their power structure.”
Syed Umair Hassan, Director Youth Affairs & Sports, Punjab highlighted the efforts of the Punjab Youth Affairs & Sports Department to engage youth to tackle youth voting issues. He requested ECP to conduct awareness sessions at their E-libraries, a place utilised by youth of Punjab.
The Dialogue was attended by Mr. Hasnain Bokhari, FES, Mr. Talal Raza, Political Advisor at British High Commission, Ms. Fatima Yaseen & Ms. Mahnoor Tariq of Institute of Social and Youth Development, Mr. Andrew Joseph, Local Government Councillor, Dr. Aqsa Shabbir, Ms. Bushra Ghani and Ms. Maliha Rai of Lahore College for Women University, Mr. Bilal Gillani, Training Manager of the Body Shop Pakistan, Mr. Yassar Talib, PTI & Alumni YPFP, Mr. Muzamil Kakar, General Secretary, Haqooq-e-Khalq Party and Mr. Ali Aftab, Haqooq-e-Khalq Party. Analysts and media persons present at the dialogue included Mr. Habib Akram, Senior Analyst, Mr. Khizer Hayat Gondal, Chief Reporter, Jang and Mr. Majid Nizami, Journalist Geo News. Members of 17th Youth Parliament Pakistan who joined the Dialogue included Chaudhry Usman Arif, Mr. Bilal Ahmed, Ms. Haniya Majid, Mr. Ibraz Ajmal Butt, Mr. Arsam Tufail Butt, Mr. Daniel Massey & Mr. Naveed Sharif.