VIEW : PML-N’s Youth Policy — Fakiha Hassan Rizvi
Earlier this year the slogans of change were highly charged. The initiators constituted of ‘vibrant Pakistani youth’. The polling stations filled up, as the Election Day converted into a day of celebration for a nation weary of rampant corruption, fomenting extremism and uncertain modes of governance. The unemployed but educated youth also foresaw the amelioration of a country that provided them with lesser chances to excel. The younger population became a large chunk of the ‘electoral target’ for two mainstream political parties: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Convincing an emotionally driven segment of society tested the political acumen and persuasiveness of Pakistani politicians. At the end of the day, PML-Nawaz was triumphant. Not only did the majority of Pakistanis voted for the PML-N but also the majority of youngsters believed in its leadership for a better tomorrow.
According to a Gallup Pakistan survey, on May 11, 2013, among the new voters who took part in the general elections this time, 37 percent voted in favour of the PML-N, whereas 26 percent of them voted for the PTI. Regardless of complaintss of rigging and other electoral malpractices, the PML-N is now handling the affairs of the state and it also owes that to the youth that voted for it.
The PML-N remained cognizant of the possible consequences ensuing in case of resentment from the young voters. Taking the leverage of its’ government’s term in Punjab from 2008 to 2013, it took timely and strategic steps to garner support of younger population. The laptop scheme under the e-youth initiative of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif raised the popularity graph of the PML-N among students belonging to public sector universities. The Ujala Scheme (distribution of free solar lamps) and the extravagant Punjab Youth festival, which created back-to-back world records, encouraged more membership in PML-N’s youth wing. ‘Merit’ was a condition that had to be fulfiled by the students. The internship programmes also motivated the fresh graduates to earn and prepare themselves for professional life ahead. Foreign tours were arranged for outstanding students who scored the highest marks at matriculation and intermediate level. Regular visits were paid by the chief minister to educational institutes, which was even termed as ‘pre-poll rigging’ by his opponents, as the chief minister used to ask for votes from students. The Danish schools represented the PML-N’s volition to improve the state of education in Pakistan and to provide state-of- the-art facilities to the underprivileged students.
This incentive-based trend has continued and initiatives of such nature are again being introduced, now at the national level. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his latest address to the public, has briefed the nation about six new youth-centered programmes. He has promised the future architects with the provision of ‘youth training’, ‘loans’, ‘youth employment’ and laptops. To make things easier and accessible a website has been launched (www.pmo.gov.pk) that will be operational from September 28, 2013. It is a good indicator that the PML-N wants the youth to give its’ feedback about the new schemes that it can provide through the website and SMS service. However, it should be kept in mind that these schemes cannot continue for a long period of time. The younger population is more concerned about education and respectable living standards at home. Nationwide surveys show that most young Pakistanis list jobs, education and access to resources as their top priorities. For this, it has to be converted into a valuable human resource. On the other hand, the large number of young voters reaching the ballot boxes on May 11, 2013 also indicates that the Pakistani youth now wants to have a greater say in the policies that influence or govern the country.
Along with the continuation of support and development programmes, the PML-N has to accentuate long-term goals. Strategic and tangible measures are required to secure a reasonable future for the possible ‘youth bulge’. It is evident that political parties did realise the problems being faced by the Pakistani youth. The electoral manifestos of all political parties contesting the general elections 2013 did not and could not afford to ignore the word ‘youth’. In the case of the PML-N, the manifesto consisting of 110 pages, reiterated the word youth 17 times. Among a long list of initiatives that the manifesto promises, one is to “involve youth in governance at the local level and reservation of special seats in Union Councils and District Councils to prepare them for a bigger role in National and Provincial Assemblies.” This part of the manifesto seems to be unattended to date. Almost two-thirds of Pakistan’s total population is under the age of 25 and there is no way that this fraction can be excluded from political participation. The PML-N led government needs to declare and explain the plans for enhanced participation of youth in policy-making and governance. Legislative amendments and restructuring of state policies must be steered towards ‘inclusion of youth’ at all levels.
Originally published in Pakistan Daily Times on September 30, 2013. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C09%5C30%5Cstory_30-9-2013_pg3_6