December 08: In observance of National Voters Day in Pakistan on December 07, PILDAT convened a dialogue with youth, political party representatives, legislators, members of civil society, academia, the media, and the general public to discuss the voting process of the upcoming general elections and the steps that must be taken to ensure they are free and fair, and to increase youth voter participation. Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the PILDAT president, chaired two panel discussions.
How to Ensure Upcoming General Elections Are Free, Fair, and Credible was the subject of the first panel discussion. The panellists were Mr. Fahd Husain, SAPM on Public Policy & Strategic Communications with the rank of Federal Minister, Syed Talat Husain, senior journalist, and Mr. Haroon Shinwari, Media & Outreach Wing of Pakistan’s Election Commission.
Mr. Husain, SAPM on Public Policy & Strategic Communications with the status of Federal Minister, remarked that there is pressure to ensure that the next elections are free, fair, and transparent because they will determine the stability of our nation and the trajectory of the country over the next few years. Prior to the next elections, a system must be developed and installed in a short amount of time.
Mr. Haroon Shinwari, ECP’s Media and Outreach Wing, presented the Election Commission of Pakistan’s perspective on election-related problems and outlined some of the measures ECP was doing to guarantee elections are fair and credible. They have spent 47 million PKR on awareness efforts to ensure inclusion, one of the determinants of a legitimate election. For the 2023 elections, there will be a total of one hundred thousand polling stations around the nation, each with four voting booths to accommodate a total of one thousand six hundred voters during the nine-hour voting day. To prevent election dispute, a real-time results technology has been tested and will be used in the next general election.
Syed Talat Hussain, a senior journalist, commented on the potential fairness of the 2023 elections by describing some of the challenges voters experience at the polls. Voters demand a more streamlined election process, particularly in terms of logistics, to be at peace. Voting booths should be placed in close proximity to each neighbourhood, modernising the electoral process. ECP must evolve into a system that is more complicated and adaptive, bringing voting to the doorsteps of citizens. He feels that next elections might bring up new challenges owing to power politics.
The subject of the second panel was Youth Voter Education & Information: How to Increase Youth Voter Participation? The panellists for this debate were Rana Ihsan Afzal Khan, Co-ordinator to PM on Commerce & Industry, Ms. Arifa Noor, Senior Journalist, and Mr. Haroon Shinwari, Media & Outreach Wing of Election Commission of Pakistan.
Rana Ihsan Afzal Khan, Co-ordinator to the Prime Minister for Commerce and Industry, encouraged youngsters to participate in the nation’s administration, referring to them as the country’s future. Youth is the majority in the voting group, yet when voter participation is measured, they become the minority; Pakistan must solve this dilemma. Youth must recognise that it is the government that makes policy choices that influence their day-to-day life and their future; thus, their participation in decision making is crucial. Comparing Pakistan to other nations, he said, “Democracy in other nations has attained maturity and established continuity, but Pakistan’s past is replete with interferences.” He also underlined the significance of local governments, as they would engage the youth and solve their concerns at the local level. In Pakistan, the procedure for candidacy is faulty, with several impediments to entrance for young and aspiring leaders.
Ms. Arifa Noor, a senior journalist, suggested that instead of singling out young people, it should be emphasised that Pakistanis do not vote. Those under the age of 35 make up fifty percent of the population, thus rather than categorising them as young, the situation should be termed such that Pakistani citizens are not participating in the voting process. The political discourse does not centre on the challenges of our country or the young, which neither engages nor motivates the youth to vote. Without political stability, programmes would be subject to continual change, and progress could not be quantified. She emphasised the necessity for change inside political parties, adding that when a new generation emerges, fresh leadership should be introduced to appeal to young people.
Mr. Haroon Shinwari, Media and Outreach Wing, ECP, gave a few data on the youthful voting population and the steps ECP has implemented to improve youth awareness, including the Voter Education programme and gender sensitization programmes. Local governments should be active in all provinces, since doing so would inspire young people to run for office and voice their issues at the local level.
Representatives from civil society, academics, foreign embassies to Pakistan, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs, and journalists were among the 200 participants in the National Voters’ Dialogue hosted by PILDAT in Islamabad. In addition to these individuals, current and previous members of PILDAT’s Youth Parliament Pakistan were present at the event.