By Shahid Ashraf, Tim Sowula

03 April 2013 - 12:17

According to the report, just 46% of women in Pakistan intend to vote in the upcoming elections. Photo of Hafsa Shaikh from Lahore by Umar Farooq.
Photo of Hafsa Shaikh from Lahore ©

Umar Farooq.

Our new report ‘Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box‘ shows a generation of 18- to 29-year-olds in Pakistan concerned about their safety, jobs and institutions.

We have been working in Pakistan since 1947. Today we aim to help young people engage positively with their society and the UK by (a) giving them a voice, (b) providing educational opportunities and (c) strengthening links between universities in Pakistan and the UK.

To better understand the thoughts and aspirations of young people, we published ‘The Next Generation Report’ in 2009, when pessimism was a worrying trend. Our latest research shows that the concerns of Pakistan’s next generation have grown.

Pakistan currently has a tremendous opportunity to progress through its ‘demographic dividend’, i.e., the fact that Pakistan is a young and increasingly urban society. Half its citizens are under twenty; two-thirds have yet to reach their thirtieth birthday and the population has trebled in fewer than fifty years.

A huge generation of young people is now entering the workforce. However, this demographic opportunity will close around 2045, by which time the society will be ageing rapidly.

Pessimism a defining trait

The latest research shows that an overwhelming 94 per cent of youth in Pakistan now think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only one in five are hoping that their economic position will improve in the next year. Pessimism is becoming a defining trait of this generation, one that holds up across the genders and urban and rural populations.

A generation marked by violence

When the youth were asked about the most important events in their lifetimes, they pointed towards natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake and floods. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto tops the list.

More worryingly, a quarter of all young people have been directly affected by violence, or witnessed a serious violent event (in rural areas the incidence is twice that of urban areas). In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), that figure is 62 per cent.

72 per cent of young people do not believe that life is safer for most people in Pakistan compared to the past. In the Global Peace Index, Pakistan ranks 149th of 158 countries.

Growing without a safety net

In 1947 Pakistan’s population was 35 million. By 2060, Pakistan’s population is projected to be 285 million.

Today only eight million people are over the age of 65. By 2060 that figure will be 40 million and start rising steeply from then on. By the time a baby born today grows old, Pakistanis aged 65 and above will outnumber those under 18. Pakistan could thus become the first country to grow old before it becomes rich.

Currently, two-thirds of Pakistani children fail to get enough food to grow normally, with one in five being severely stunted. Of the middle class youth, 57 per cent worry about their access to consumer goods, 76 per cent to fuels for cars and motorcycles.

It’s the economy

In the last report the youth mentioned the greatest source of anxiety for them was not terrorism, but insecurity when it came to being fairly dealt with justice and opportunities for jobs and exams. Now their greatest worry is economic inflation.

Only 10 per cent of the youth feel the country has enough jobs to go around (of the women, only 5 per cent feel the same). Overall, just one in ten have full-time contracted jobs (in China, 40 per cent have it in the same demographic; Pakistan’s contribution to full-time employment is also explained by the fact that 86 per cent of women describe themselves as home-makers).

Approval of institutions and democracy

Approval rates for the government, national assembly, provincial governments and assemblies are very low. The lowest are for political parties. Other institutions – religious, media, military and judiciary – have high approval rates, with the sole exception of the police, towards which young people are unfavourable.

When asked about the best political system for Pakistan, people explained their choices:

  • 29 per cent believe in democracy as a system, and the reasons for their preference are economic growth and ensuring access to water, electricity, gas and education.
  • 32 per cent believe in military rule. Those who believe in military rule think it can best provide security, internal and external, and also defend against Pakistan’s foreign enemies.
  • 38 per cent believe in Islamic Shariah because they think it will best advance moral and religious values. They also favour it because they believe it will better religious tolerance and ensure fairness.

A conservative generation

64 per cent of the male youth describe themselves as conservative/religious, whereas 75 per cent of women feel the same. Only a quarter of urban young people have an interest in politics.

Three quarters of the youth who expressed an opinion in our survey worry about exposure to foreign media, films, music and ideas. Young people from urban areas were most worried about foreign influence. Youth with access to cable TV were less conservative than those who only had access to terrestrial (conversely, terrestrial watchers were more optimistic than cable viewers).

Owners of mobile phones are more likely to want to vote, more interested in politics and more likely to believe they can change Pakistan.

Opportunities for politicians

Our survey results indicate there are 13 million first-time voters of the 25 million between the ages of 18 and 29. Only 40 per cent are certain to vote, whereas 41 per cent are undecided. Anyone who can manage to bring out those who are undecided will have a significant advantage. Just a ten per cent increase in youth turnout would mean an additional 2.5 million more votes on election day, quite significant for marginal constituencies.

In Pakistani families across the board, the most educated are those below the age of 30, giving a unique opportunity for parties to appeal to those who may look beyond traditional voting parameters.

Most young people believe political parties haven’t done enough to communicate with them. The survey tells us that, in the upcoming May election, if politicians are to court the young, they will need to reach out to them as a separate bloc, give them a strong economic agenda, address their feelings of insecurity and talk convincingly about values.

  • The connected middle class: They are 8 per cent of the next generation. Committed to democracy, they think corruption is a major issue. They are increasingly looking for opportunities outside Pakistan (a quarter want to emigrate permanently, while another quarter would like to live abroad for some time).
  • Marginalised rural labourer: 15 per cent of the next generation, this group is predominantly in unstable work, worried about gas, electricity and water. For them, terrorism is not a major issue. Jobs and prices are. 80 per cent say they are likely to vote, but their decisions are based on family and landlords.
  • The conservative backbone: 15 per cent of the next generation, this group is mostly urban, highly educated and aspirational. They have a distinct generational identity and believe they can change Pakistan; 98 per cent are proud of it. Skeptical of democracy, they are more likely to favour Sharia, value integrity and economic expertise.
  • Char Divari housewives: They make up a third of the next generation and are mostly disconnected from the outside world, apart from day-time television. Disengaged from politics, they are unsure if they are even on the electoral rolls (70 per cent are in fact on the rolls). Anyone who can reach them politically can potentially secure a big dividend because so many are undecided when it comes to voting, and crucially when it comes to whom to vote for.

Visit the ‘Next Generation’ website to see the 2013 report in full.

Learn more about our offer in Pakistan.

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