Political parties must encourage active youth participation in polls

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Political parties need to play a more active role to involve youth in electoral affairs, starting by incorporating youth within its power structure and reserving seats for the youth in the National Assembly.

These were some of the recommendations proposed by the participants at a Dialogue organised by PILDAT & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan to discuss the ‘Missing Young Voters of Pakistan’ on Thursday.

Dr Niels Hegewisch, Country Director, FES Pakistan, reiterated the German organization’s dedication towards creating socially democratic states around the globe. One of their aims in Pakistan is to promote the role and participation of youth in democratic practices of the country as “infusing youth into politics and legislation is the true way of forming a representative democracy in a country.”

In her key remarks Qurat-ul-Ain Fatima, Director Media Coordination and Outreach Wing & Director Protocol, ECP shared key statistics on voters of Pakistan and the different methods employed by the Election Commission to improve voter registration and turnout. ECP’s SVEEP and internship programmes were designed to engage young people and educate them on voting and elections. She said ECP has focused on local government elections to encourage youth to vote and even contest as candidates; with KP and Sindh allocating 5% of their seats to youth adding similar strategies need to be devised and implemented on provincial and national level.

Dr. Ali Muhammad Malik, Deputy Secretary of Prime Minister’s Youth Programme (PMYP) highlighted the efforts undertaken by Prime Minister’s Office of Youth Affairs to engage youth of the country. Dr. Ali said we need a responsive government that prioritizes youth empowerment, employment, education and engagement further adding PMYP has begun the process of soliciting nominations for youth-led groups and organizations in order to enable fruitful participation of young people in the development of national cohesion and inclusion.

Shaheera Jalil AlBasit, Advocate for Pakistan’s Youth Election Quota Campaign, stressed the importance of having youth representation in the legislative bodies and the resulting impact this would have on future policy development. Ms. Shaheera then shared key highlights of the Bill she had introduced in National Assembly of Pakistan to have reserved seats in legislature and political bodies for youth. Its three main demands include: 30% of the total candidates of political parties should be youth and the duty of financing these candidates’ campaigns should be on the parties themselves. Lastly, 30% of leadership and central positions in political parties are awarded to young candidates. The bill has been referred to the Committee of Parliamentary Affairs for review.

Asking the important questions, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT, in his opening presentation explained the impact of this low youth participation will have by weakening the democratic governance system of this country. He highlighted the ever-increasing voter turnout gap in the previous general elections and then shared statistics on young candidates given party tickets by political parties. Mr. Mehboob further said that in Pakistan, TLP is the top party granting their tickets to youth. The largest and mainstream parties do not even make it into the top five. 46% of the tickets need to be awarded to youth in proportion to their population. We need to address this issue and ensure youth’s increased representation and participation before the next elections.

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