Monday December 05, 2022

‘Lack of student unions, families’ hegemony in political parties bar youth from rising to leadership role’

By Our Correspondent
November 25, 2022

The restoration of student unions to ensure students’ participation in politics was an encouraging step but so far none of the educational institutes had formulated regulations to conduct elections and form unions in response to the law passed by the Sindh Assembly on May 2, 2022.

In addition to the absence of unions at educational institute, flawed intra-party elections and hegemony of a few families in mainstream political parties, violence and general intolerance towards difference of opinion discourage the youth from actively participating in polls and politics.

Civil society activists, academics, and representatives of political parties and youth representatives raised these concerns on Thursday at a dialogue titled ‘Missing Young Voters of Pakistan’ organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan at a hotel in Karachi.

The event was told that Pakistan's political system was flawed and must be challenged and transformed by the young. The speakers called for the youth to break the status quo in the political parties that prevented them from adopting leadership roles.

The speakers also highlighted the issue of low turnout in the elections, and less participation of women in the voting process. They said it was the responsibility of political parties, state institutions, and civil society to persuade the people to exercise their right to vote in the elections.

Highlighting critical issues of low youth voter turnout in Pakistan, the participants of the dialogue asked tough questions from representatives of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). There was a mutual consensus among the participants that the political parties did not acknowledge the political struggle of its young workers and were still not ready to accept the leadership of young people.

Regional Election Commissioner Karachi Nazar Abbas remarked that student unions were instrumental in imparting political education and empowerment but they had been banned for decades. The education institutes should play their role in reviving students unions as the Sindh Assembly had lifted tge ban on student unions by passing the Sindh Students Union Act, 2019, he added.

Abbas said that the student unions would expose the basics of the electoral and political process to the youth, and their restoration would not only create youth leaders but also encourage the young people to vote.

On the ECP’s role in improving the youth’s turnout in elections, ECP Media Coordination Director Qurat-ul-Ain Fatima said a number of initiatives had been undertaken by the commission to educate the youth on electoral processes and urge them to come out to vote on the elections day.

Discussing barriers to youth’s electoral and political participation, she mentioned the ban on student unions and delays in the local government elections as detrimental factors in the political growth of the students.

Representing the Sindh government, Universities and Boards Minister Ismail Rahoo said the Pakistan Peoples Party was the only party in Pakistan that had make efforts to revive the student unions in the province.

Youths had been given representation in various committees in universities, he said, adding that there, however, had definitely been delays in making the rules for the unions. “The provincial government is fully committed to reviving the student unions at educational institutes and progress will be made in the coming days. After the revival of student unions, every student whether he belongs to a rich family or poor family would have equal opportunities of leadership,” the provincial minister remarked.

He said that in the 2018 elections, women did not cast a single vote in multiple constituencies and this issue must be addressed. Television personality and former MPA Mahtab Akbar Rashdi said that enhancing voter turnout was not just the responsibility of a single institution but rather the responsibility of every government institution, political party, civil society and educational institution.

She added that the young people themselves needed to actively seek out information about their rights, the voting process and their constituency candidates, and become familiar with all the parties’ manifestos in order to make an informed voting decision.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Arsalan Taj encouraged the youth to break the status quo present within all the political parties that prevented them from rising to leadership positions in society. “The youth make up 60 per cent of the population and we should make efforts to bring the change we want to see in political parties by utilising our given right to vote as well as joining parties and changing them from within.”

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s Mufti Qasim Fakhri stated that the base foundation of Pakistan’s political system was flawed and it needed to be effectively challenged and changed. He added that only the youth could bring about that change.

Saying that the 2023 general elections were not far off, he stressed the need for door-to-door campaigns to ensure that new voters were aware of the significance of their singular vote. Assistant Director of Sindh’s Youth Affairs & Sports Department Syed Habib Ullah briefed the event on the implementation of the Sindh Youth Policy 2018 and various initiatives especially designed for improving the youth’s political participation. “The Sindh Student Union Act, 2019, mandates that universities and colleges in the province establish norms and procedures for the functioning of student unions, however, it is unclear why this has not yet occurred,” he said.

After delivering a presentation on ‘missing young voters’ in the country, Pildat President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that after the passage of the student union law in the Sindh Assembly, each educational institution was expected to organise student unions within two months, but the universities and colleges had made no progress so far.

He called the unions a nursery for developing young leaders and commended Sindh’s progressive character in this regard. He said that all the ethnicities in Sindh must vote for a more representative democracy.