Islamabad: Ahead of crucial elections marking the first democratic transition in Pakistan's history, more than 90 per cent of the youth believe the country is heading in the wrong direction while nearly 40 per cent think Shariah or Islamic law would be the best political system, a survey said. These are among the key findings of a new survey by the British Council that focussed on youths between 18 and 29 years, who are expected to play an important role in the May 11 general election.
The 'Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box' report, published on Wednesday, indicated deep pessimism among the youth, many of whom will be voting for the first time. While pessimism was a worrying trend in the last 'Pakistan: The Next Generation' report, it is "significantly worse" in the new report, said columnist Fasi Zaka, a member of the task force behind the survey. "In 2007, 50 per cent of the youth thought Pakistan was heading in the wrong direction, today that figure is 94 per cent," Zaka said.
A majority of respondents 38 per cent said Islamic Shariah would be the best political system for Pakistan while 32 per cent backed military rule and only 29 per cent favoured democracy, according to the survey that covered over 5,200 youths across the country. Those who backed Islamic law said it was the best system for "promoting moral behaviour", eradicating corruption, ensuring access to electricity and water, and providing people with healthcare and education.
Sixty-four per cent of male youths described themselves as conservative or religious while the figure for females was 75 per cent. Asked about the most important events in their lives, most of the youths did not point to a positive event or collective achievement. Most referred to the devastating earthquake of 2005, floods in 2010 or the 2007 assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, which topped the list. "More worrying is the fact that a quarter of all young people have been directly affected by violence or witnessed a serious violent event," said Zaka.
In the restive tribal belt affected by militancy, the figure for those affected by violence was as high as 62 per cent. However, the greatest worry for the youths was not terrorism but rising prices and inflation. Only 10 per cent of those surveyed rated terrorism as the most important issue facing Pakistan. At the same time, only 10 per cent believe the country has enough jobs. A study commissioned for the report estimated there are over 25 million registered voters aged between 18 and 29, or slightly more than 30 per cent of the electorate.
Several parties like Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf have made concerted efforts to reach out to young and first-time voters, using Twitter and Facebook to target them. This has spurred efforts by more established parties like the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party to focus on the youth. However, the new survey said only 40 per cent of the youth are certain to vote while 41 per cent are undecided. "Anyone who can manage to bring out the undecided will have a significant advantage. Just a 10 per cent increase in youth turnout will mean an additional 2.5 million votes, which is quite significant for marginal constituencies," said Zaka.