In Pakistan Elections, Young Voters Are Calling Out The Powerful On Social Media

In Pakistan Elections, Young Voters Are Calling Out The Powerful On Social Media

In Pakistan Elections, Young Voters Are Calling Out The Powerful On Social Media(Representational Image)

New Delhi: Youth of Pakistan, angry with their elected politicians, surround their car and begin streaming live footage on their smartphone asking what they have done for them lately.

The numer of people below the age of 35, who are registered to vote in nationwide elections on July is 46 million people, many of them savvy social media users who are posting videos calling out the powerful.

A clip of Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, an influential politician, landowner and tribal is filmed in his car in the central city of Multan surrounded by young men chanting "thief" and "turncoat".

They all complain over the poor state of roads in the area, asking the question, "Where were you during the last five years?" An aide can be heard pleading that the leader is feeling unwell.

It is first time a Pakistani Politician has been held accountable in such a public manner in rural areas where many of the videos have been filmed. Fr decades, there feudal landowners, village elders and religious leaders have been elected unopposed.

These politicians are dubbed the "electables" and command huge vote banks. Most also take a flexible approach to ideology, and are highly courted by political parties, who view winning their allegiance as a passport to power.

In the weeks leading up to the polls, many videos like the one of Bosan have gone viral, and shared thousands of times in a country with some 207 million people, out of which according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority roughly a quarter use 3G and 4G internet.

These videos have also found their way on to Pakistan's numerous and raucous television channels, ensuring they are also broadcast to audiences without access to social media.

This has made analysts closey observe to see whether these rare moments of accountability might disrupt the way the major political parties have long relied on rural politicians and their huge vote banks as a shortcut to power.

Sarwar Bari, an analyst at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a democratic watchdog, says, the popularity of these videos show the sign of simmering resentment against corrupt politicians among Pakistan's youth.

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The youth of Pakistan, has historically been apathetic. The first time they emerged as a political force was in the 2013 elections, when a generation who grew up idolising cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan voted for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in droves. 

People below 35 years of age represent a massive proportion of the total electorate of 106 million voters registered in the 2018 elections. 

More than 17 million in the 18-25 age bracket are set to cast their vote for the first time.

According to the report by the Asia Foundation, many young people are increasingly engaged in the democratic process, particularly through the widespread use of social media.

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With the concerns over election rigging mount ahead of the vote, the impact of uncensored content such as the viral videos could become significant, analysts say.

"Social media has emerged as a democracy strengthening tool," says Shahzad Ahmed, director of Bytes for All, a digital rights group.

Even if half of the young voters who have seen and shared such videos go to the polls "it will strengthen the trust of the people in the democratic system," says Bari, who predicted election turnout will be "massive".
 
The high speed dat services reached Pakistanis Pakistanis only in 2014 and its use has spread at one of the highest rates in Asia.

With the youth getting an easy access to social media is helping to create a more democratic and participatory form of government, argues Maham Khan, a 21-year-old student of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam university in Islamabad.

She referred to 2011 protests in Cairo, which were organised via social media and eventually unseated the then-president Hosni Mubarak.

"Basically the youth is actually using social media just like in Egypt, to bring about slow social revolution," she says.

However it is still hard to predict who they will vote, given the vast socioeconomic, religious and ideological differences between this huge population, though jobs and education are among their most unifying demands.

According to the polls, the youth is supporting PTI and Khan's populist, reformist agenda, though the shine may have gone off the sportsman somewhat -- one of the viral videos shows him being whisked away by aides as a similar crowd challenges him in Karachi.

After decades of corrupt political dynasties, most students who spoke to news agency AFP hopefor a change, and Khan, despite widespread claims he is being backed by the powerful military as they seek a pliant government, represents the best chance of that. 

23-year-old Rafey Khan Jaboon while talking to news agency AFP said, "As a first time voter myself... I'm very excited and I want to be a part of this process through which my vote can bring change," 23-year-old Rafey Khan Jaboon told AFP.

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(Inputs From News Agencies) 

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