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August 17, 2015

Ensuring youth participation in politics — reality or farce?

August 17, 2015

Karachi
Muhammad Saqib, a young political activist from the Garden East neighbourhood, was pleased to note that a youth councillor’s seat had been designated in the local government system, and he already plans to submit his nomination papers for his constituency.
“The decision will not only bolster the youth’s confidence and their participation in the electoral process but will encourage greater political activism among our younger generations,” said the 22-year old, who had started off his political career as a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
On August 12, the Sindh Assembly passed ‘The Sindh Local Government (Third Amendment) Bill 2015’, in which, along with other amendments, a new clause ensuring five percent representation of the youth at all levels – union committee or council (UC), town committee, municipal corporation, district council and metropolitan cooperation - had been introduced.
As per the previous law, two seats were allocated for the chairperson and the vice-chairperson of the UC, four seats for general councillors, and one each for women, labour/peasant and non-Muslim members. However, the two additional seats would ensure participation of women and youth.
Following KP
Political analysts monitoring the local government polls opined the Pakistan People's Party-led Sindh government had followed in the footsteps of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led Khyber Pakhtunkwa government, which had focused on garnering support from the youth both in the recent KP LG elections as well as the May 2013 general elections.
PTI Karachi’s spokesperson, Dawa Khan Sabir, said the party’s slogan of ‘change’ appealed to the country’s youth, which makes up more than 60 percent of its population.
Lauding the Sindh government’s decision, Sabir said the PTI’s policy to actively involve the youth in mainstream politics had also compelled other political parties to initiate pro-youth policies.
“PTI is the only political party which practically gave tickets to the youth in the general elections,” he claimed, adding that other parties instead chose to introduce their children.
Aijaz Aslam, central joint secretary of the National Youth Organization - a sister organisation of the Awami National Party (ANP) - said its members would not only contest for the seats of youth councillors, but also stand for other positions.
“The allocation of seats for youth will help them understand practical parliamentary politics,” Aslam told The News.
Youth political activism
Analysts believe that the youth’s participation, specially students, had played a decisive role in shaping Pakistan’s politics. But following a ban on student unions, the political landscape was severely altered.
However, till today, all major political parties still operate student wings and youth organisations - two separate entities dedicated to youth representation,
Among these, the Pakistan People's Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf represent the mainstream political forces, though almost all other religio-political groups in Pakistan also have strong youth units as well. However, while the numbers may not reflect anything of the sort, the practical role of youth wings has greatly declined over the years.
According to a report titled ‘Apolitical or Depoliticised? Pakistan’s Youth and Politics’, published by the Jinnah Institute, the role and potential of the Pakistan youth was at last fully realised in the aftermath of the massive turnout in the May 2013 general election and the increased political participation of the young.
“The disengagement of political parties from the youth is also reflected in their agenda towards the young, as articulated in their election manifestos,” the report states, adding that there was an overwhelming support for providing educational and/or employment opportunities but almost no mention of the youth’s routes to political participation.
Co-founder of an independent youth group, the Pakistan Youth Alliance, Ali Abbas Zaidi termed it a wise decision.
However, he suggested adopting a multifaceted strategy to involve the youth in peaceful and democratic politics.
“It will not only stop them from joining violent groups but also generate a new leadership.”
He was of the opinion that a number of youth leaders had been encouraged at to acquire top positions in certain political parties, such as the Jammat-e-Islami, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
However, Khurram Ali, central organiser of the left-oriented National Students Federation, said the decision was evidence of the ruling elite’s double standards.
“The government has, on one hand, banned student politics from campuses - which is the breeding ground of national level politics - but has introduced seats for the youth,” Ali told The News.
He claimed that political parties had continued to befool the youth by distributing free laptops, but had failed to practically give them their fundamental right of getting free education, employment and housing, he maintained.
“Most of the parties, particularly the PTI, who have become champions of youth mainly focused on the elite class, while clearly ignoring the youth of the working class,” he said.