Political participation by citizens is the cornerstone of all successful democratic societies. This is especially important in countries with large youth populations as young people’s involvement in the democratic process is instrumental for creating peaceful, vibrant, and responsive political structures. However, the mere existence of electoral politics does not translate into effective youth participation; in fact, this should be complimented with recognized representative bodies of young people to provide them with constructive platforms to participate in or influence the democratic process. Pakistan has seen a gradual disintegration of political space for vocal young people to become career politicians or to present their demands before democratically elected representatives.
In recent years, the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan has been accompanied by an exponential increase in the population of young people who are politically conscious and increasingly vocal about their rights and needs: it is estimated that almost 46% of Pakistan’s total electorate comprises young people. While the transition towards permanent representative bodies to formally channelize the energy and dynamism of young people is still underway, mainstream political parties have increasingly started attracting younger voters through traditional (membership drives) and non-traditional (social media) means.
Cognizant of these developments, UNDP Pakistan in partnership with Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) organized a ‘Youth Dialogue with Political Parties on Inclusion of Youth Issues in Political Manifestos for 2018 Elections’. The groundbreaking initiative stimulated dialogue between members of the youth parliament, young activists, entrepreneurs and elected representatives from ten mainstream political parties of Pakistan on the need to focus on issues of pressing concern for the youth of the country. In this regard, youth representatives identified various issues that were of critical concern for them including the environment, child protection, education and madrassah reforms, uniform system of education, career counselling for youth, young women’s participation in the public sphere, revival of student unions, investments in the fields of science, business, and technology, young people’s active involvement in the policy domain, and promotion of youth employment through innovative channels including entrepreneurship, among others. In response, three political parties including the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam, the Jamat-i-Islami, and the Pakistan People’s Party unveiled specific commitments with young people in their party manifestos for the 2018 elections.
The dialogue is part of Youth Empowerment Programme’s youth engagement strategy which calls for creating avenues for vocal young people to interact with and influence power actors in strategic sectors to effectively communicate their demands in policy circles.
Daniyal Hassan, Member PILDAT Youth Parliament said that Pakistan cannot progress without generating revenue. Political parties should pay more attention to this fact and take effective steps to increase the country’s tax base.
M. Mustafa, Former Member of Youth Parliament, Founder of Zameen Social Enterprise mentioned that the government should pay more attention to the students studying in the religious seminaries of Pakistan. They should be mainstreamed and given equal opportunities to contribute to Pakistan’s economy and society.
Suniya Saadullah Khan, Founder Moqa.com mentioned that the political parties should consider the mandatory introduction of career counselling centres in universities in their manifestos for the General Elections 2018. This will help young people in choosing the right careers that match their skill sets and interests and contribute more productively to their country’s economy in the longer run.
These dialogues will help mainstream young people as a viable political force in Pakistan and help strengthen the democratic project in the country through increased transparency and accountability of elected representatives. UNDP is planning to organize similar dialogues at the Federal and Provincial levels between selected young people and members of the newly formed youth parliamentary caucuses at federal and provincial levels after the General Elections 2018.