ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s streets are ripe with promise: posters of beaming candidates wrestle for space on street lamps, walls, and even public littering bins; loudspeakers fashion impromptu mini-rallies at party camps and tweets and status updates witness a surge of political consciousness the likes of which we have not seen in a long time.
However, the challenge within this electric landscape is greater than just getting people to attend your rallies and ‘like’ your Facebook pages. The future of Pakistan is, for the first time, in the hands of its young voters, who have shown an alarming indifference to the ballot in previous electoral cycles.
This time it may be different; 25-year-old Omar Badi-uz-Zaman is aiming to inspire his generation to vote through a dynamic visual campaign called: Made of Pakistan: Vote!
Zaman represents a newly politicised urban youth voting for the first time. He believes that voting is not the “end-all of democracy” but a litmus test of societal awareness and involvement, even if it means voting for the “least worst of candidates” in order to have a stake in the future of the country.
“We all care about the same things,” says 30-year-old actor and co-director of the video, Daniyal Raheal, who believes that Pakistanis are connected by a “single thread” regardless of ethnicity, class or geography. “I’d rather vote now and look back without regret five years later, knowing that I tried,” says Raheal, who believes that accountability is necessary in the democratic process, and his sentiments are echoed by many of his peers.
A FAFEN survey reveals that 58% of respondents aged between 18 and 35 disclosed an intention to vote, and if roused to show up at the ballots, the first democratic transition of power will be a historical landmark to be celebrated.
Nida Awan, a 24-year-old associate consultant at Navitus deems voting a “basic responsibility” towards not only her own future, but that of her fellow citizens as well.
“It’s extremely important to vote because this will hold us accountable if we experience a corrupt and incompetent government,” she says, drawing the analogy of an HR department where those hiring a new candidate have as much of a stake in the performance of a recruit as the recruit himself.
“You cannot fix a system by remaining outside of it,” expanded Usman Iftikhar, a young Pricing Executive in the telecommunication sector, who is willing to take a chance at the ballots for a better future.
The picture, however, is not entirely rosy. A FAFEN report on youth as the decisive factor reveals that 17 % of youth with national identity cards remain unregistered, suggesting that perhaps the youth vote will not sway the outcome as much as is being anticipated.
30-year-old Farrukh Awan, for example, says he is completely disinterested in voting, be cause he says he simply doesn’t trust any political party.
While many choose to elect “the lesser evil”, Awan prefers to remain aloof from the electoral process, unwilling to associate with the “rhetoric of novices” and “empty promises of tested and failed candidates”.
Similarly, 28-year-old Subhan also believes that none of the candidates within his constituency have solutions, or even a clean slate.
“If I vote without conviction, how am I any different from a Hari (farmer) forced to vote for someone out of allegiance to a feudal leader?”
Zaman disagrees, arguing that voting increases the stakes of citizens, investing them in the tackling of issues closest to them: “Accountability encourages citizens to voice issues and demand solutions”.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2013.