Pakistani Youth Vote Could be Critical, Analysts Say

By SARDAR NOKHAIZ, written for  |  May 9, 2013 at 1:48 PM
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan May 9 (UPI Next) -- Political analysts say the youth vote in Pakistan's Saturday elections could be a game changer.

According to the country's voter rolls, 47 percent of Pakistani voters are between the ages of 18 and 35.

This means that "39 million out of total 83 million voters are under 35," Tariq Malik, chairman of Pakistan's National Database Registration Authority told UPI Next. "The most important thing is that around 30 million of these 39 million voters were not part of the list in the last elections," he said, adding, "Around 20 percent are between 18 to 25 years."

Major parties are rushing to sign up youth candidates.

"They are harbingers of change," former cricketer and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party founder Imran Khan said in an interview with UPI Next.

"We will field 25 percent candidates under 35 years of age, so an educated, talented class can come into politics," Khan said.

Seventy of the PTI's 230 candidates for 272 available National Assembly seats are below the age of 35, Khan said. Meanwhile, he said, 150 PTI candidates under the age of 35 are vying for provincial assembly seats.

The PTI was Pakistan's first political party to call on youth to challenge the country's "hereditary" political system, and to put forward a "Youth Policy Vision" encompassing health, education and sports issues as top priorities.

Other parties have followed suit. The Pakistan People's Party has chosen 24-year-old Bilawala Bhutto Zardari, son of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, as its chairman. Young voters "can relate with young Bilawal," PPP spokesman Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar told UPI Next in Islamabad.

"We have included a section for youth empowerment in our manifesto for upcoming elections, which lays down our vision for youth in Pakistan," Nawaz said, adding that young people were already active in his party.

Raza Rumi, an Islamabad-based political commentator, said that previously nonpartisan and untested youth stand a good chance of transforming Pakistani politics. "It has become very important for all political parties to attract youth for upcoming elections because they can easily be game changers," Rumi said.

"The good thing," he added, "is that youth has got this sense that they can change the fate of this country."

A survey of Pakistani youth released April 3 by the British Council, a U.K. cultural relations organization, said 94 percent of Pakistani youth think the country is heading in the wrong direction. About 60 percent of young people plan to vote, the survey said, and another 10 percent say they could still be persuaded to turn out on Election Day, according to "The Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box."

Although the youth vote could tip the political power balance in Pakistan, experts believe the impact may not be uniform across the country, because more than 60 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where elder-dominated caste systems dominate voting decisions. For example, if a member of the Jatt clan is running for a seat in a certain district, village-based elders call on local residents to vote for him, and voters comply.

Younger voters are enthusiastic about changing Pakistan's direction.

"I never voted in past but I think this is the time to react and be part of democratic system to bring change," Raja Faisal, a 29-year-old, Islamabad-based immigration consultant, said. "Most of my friends who remained impartial or nonpartisan in last elections have been feeling same way," Faisal said. He said he will vote for Imran Khan's PTI.

Khan, Faisal said, "has come up as sign of change and I believe we should give him a chance. I am fed up with this ancestral politics in this country. I never voted in the past because no one gave me confidence that I could change the system."

Ali Abbas, 32, from Mandranwal, a village in Sialkot district, a Punjabi business hub famous for production of sports and medical equipment, said he would take advice from his elders while voting, "but I think they would also consider my suggestion as well," he added.

"I will decide once all parties finalize candidates in our area. I will vote for a party that promises to provide jobs and end the power crisis in the country," he said. He added that he always respects his father's advice "because he is an experienced guy."

"We have already been debating among family members about different political parties but Imran Khan can be the most suitable person to vote."

Anam Ali, 26, an Islamabad university student said she feels "empowered politically for the first time." She said she discusses politics with her fellow students and most will vote in the elections. Her friends are enthusiastic about the elections, she said. "We believe that our vote can become agent for change", she adds.

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