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Pakistan political parties vying for young voters' support

By MUHAMMAD ARIF SHAFI, written for UPI.com   |   May 1, 2013 at 2:12 PM
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 1 (UPI Next) -- With landmark elections set for May 11, Pakistani political parties are working to attract the large number of young voters, those between 18 and 25, who now make up almost 20 percent of registered voters.

Former cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party has massive youth support.

The Election Commission of Pakistan says there were almost 81 million registered voters in the country's last election, in 2008, and more than 5 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 25 were added to the list this year.

This is enough to change an election. In 2008 the Pakistan People’s Party received more than 10 million votes, leading the ruling coalition. A party attracting the 17 million youth votes would have a powerful position after this month's election.

Young Pakistanis interviewed showed an interest in political participation.

Samiullah Khan, 22, is a student at Peshawar's University of Engineering and Technology, and an active PTI member.

"I want change," and that is why he joined the party, he said.

"I shall use my power and I am excited about it," he said.

Another Peshawar student, Riazuddin Pirzada, is backing the ruling PPP’s youth wing.

"Yes, I believe my party has delivered during its last term of government but the second opportunity will see better things in the country," he said.

One reason the young voters are important is that they have more education than their elders and are more likely to vote on a candidate's merits rather than caste and ethnicity.

Almost all the political parties have youth wings, which are becoming active.

The Shabab-e-Milli, youth wing of the rightist party Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, has an estimated 2 million members. It is not like the youth membership of other political parties, which have registered students under 18 years old as party members, said Hanifullah Khan, Shabab-e-Milli's central deputy secretary.

His party, as well as others, has given new importance to youth affairs through such actions as including manifesto language on youth policy or stressing youth empowerment.

PTI is an emerging political giant that is considered the party of the new generation. It is giving significant attention to youth participation in this month's election, with young voters considered to be a key voting bloc for the party. Khan in his recent statement said the party would grant 35 percent of candidate slots to adults younger than 35 years.

Aamer Raza, an assistant political science professor at the University of Peshawar, linked current youth mobilization to media's role in highlighting key issues and a high birth rate that increased the number and education level of young people in urban areas.

"In my view, the PTI has drummed-up youngsters the most, although other parties have somehow done it successfully too," Raza told the UPI Next. He added that Khan may not be young at 60 but he appears more youthful than his years and this appeals to young voters.

"Elders have always made decision as a tradition in our society, which has come to an end now. Youth has realized at present that they could make a change and decide what to do," he said.

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Editor's Note: Arif Shafi was killed Monday, April 29, in a suicide bomb blast in Peshawar. He was a freelance journalist and contributor in UPI Next's Pakistan election coverage project. >Read more

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