Will the youth vote in 2018?

Pakistnai Youth

Will the youth vote in 2018?

Young voters can change the outcome of the July 25 general elections. But to do this they will need to come out in large numbers to cast their ballots.

The youth can bring about a much-needed change in the country through the power of their votes. A high youth turnout can play a key role in many constituencies. But there are serious concerns over the turnout of young voters in the upcoming polls. This is primarily because mainstream political parties are not addressing the challenges faced by the youth.

Under these circumstances, will young people come out and vote for a change the political landscape? The participation of young voters in the polls will improve the quality of democracy and streamline the electoral process.

There has been considerable scepticism over how many of these young voters will actually make it to polling stations on Election Day. Political parties are not trying to reach out to young voters with a view to mobilise them for the July 25 elections as a low turnout will strengthen the grip of traditional politicians and electables. But the youth isn’t sufficiently confident that their vote can bring about the change they are looking for.

Many young people have cited concerns that their vote won’t make a difference as the fundamental reason why they are not willing to cast their ballots. They are disillusioned by mainstream parties who have failed to address their issues. As a result, many of them prefer to abstain from voting rather than visit polling stations to make a difference.

Our society is bitterly divided and polarised along political lines. In this situation, every vote counts – especially those from one of the country’s largest voting groups. Young voters cannot sit idly by in a situation where they can play a decisive role. The situation will not improve if we continue to allow others to make major political decisions. Youth voters who want to inspire change need to show their support for those candidates who represent their needs. Only young people can vote in their own interest. They must exercise this right and make their presence felt.

Political trends among young voters haven’t changed much since the 2013 general elections. The PTI is still the most popular party for young educated middle-class voters. During the 2013 general elections, its support base was mainly confined to educated, urban voters who belonged to the upper and middle classes. Although this group of young voters is quite vocal, they still have a narrow base in the posh areas of the cities.

The PTI has not only been able to garner support among the urban youth who belong to the lower-middle class, but has also extended its support base to the educated, middle-class youth in rural areas. In the last general elections, the PTI had failed to attract educated, middle-class youth from the country’s rural belt. However, there is a strong likelihood that more young people from rural areas will vote for the PTI in the July 25 general elections.

Meanwhile, the PML-N has the advantage of gaining support from young voters from the lower-middle and working classes. But it has failed to make major inroads among this demographic. Nevertheless, the PML-N is still the most popular party among the urban youth in Punjab who belong to the lower-middle and working classes.

The majority of Pakistani youth are inclined towards right-wing, conservative and centrist political ideals. These ideas have dominated Pakistani society and have influenced young voters as well. That’s why young voters are either inclined towards the right-wing PTI or the conservative PML-N.

The PPP has, so far, failed to have a significant impact on young voters. It hasn’t made any serious attempts to attract the youth. While Bilawal Bhutto is a young and charismatic leader, he hasn’t provided anything concrete to young people.

Over 66 percent of Pakistan’s total population is under the age of 30 and nearly 20 percent of the 105.96 million Pakistanis who will be able to vote in the upcoming elections are between the ages of 18 and 25. An additional 15 percent are between the ages of 26 and 30. Although the youth are strong in number, they – alongside many other marginalised groups – have struggled to have their voice heard or demands met.

If a large number of young people won’t vote, the attention that they will receive is likely to be short-lived once political campaign ends. While many young people are expected to vote, the majority are either based in rural areas or small towns. There is no real debate in the media on their voting preferences and the media mainly focuses on the middle class, urban youth in this regard.

Looking beyond short-term promises that invariably arise during elections, it is essential to recognize emerging trends and deeper structural changes. For young Pakistanis who belong to the lower middle class and working class, suitable jobs and economic opportunities are a priority. They want equal opportunities, social and economic justice, and an end to the status quo that has hampered their progress and growth. Many young people want access to higher and professional education that is both affordable and of high quality. But political parties have not offered them these benefits. Unemployment, rising crime rates, rampant inflation, and corruption have adversely affected the youth.

Most Pakistanis, not just the youth, are circumspect about any real change that these elections can bring – let alone what the upcoming polls can do to strengthen democracy. This attitude needs to change.

Published in www.thenews.com.pk on 22-June-2018