In our previous blogs we’ve spoken about a whole host of topics realted to elections and the voting process. In today’s blog however, we’ll take a break from these subjects and instead talk about two related concepts: youth bulge and democracy.
Let’s first start by understanding what the term “youth bulge” means. The youth bulge is a usual phenomenon in many growing nations, and in particular, in the least developed countries. To explain it in simple words, youth bulge refers to a point in a country’s history where the population of young people (i.e. 24 years or below) stands in majority. Thus, a country that is experiencing a youth bulge will typically have a large share of the population comprising of children and young adults.
Is this good news or bad news? Well, depending on how a country plans – or does not plan – to utilize the high levels of energy associated with young people is what ultimately decides whether a youth budlge should be read as a good or a bad news.
Let’s put it this way: imagine yourself in a room full of children. Now we all know that most children all over the world have three important charectaristics, i.e. they have a lot of energy, are curious and are more suseptable to learning new things. Thus, if we plan a day of interesting activities for these children, their energy can be diverted towards engaging in those tasks and their curiosity will be directed towards learning productive things all day. However, if we just leave them unattended for even a few hours the room is likely to paint a picture of absolute chaos!
This same example is relevant when we discuss a youth bulge, i.e. unless proper planning goes into deciding the best possible ways to nurture the energy and learning tangent of young people, this same youth can drive a country into conflict and civil strife.
Recent empirical studies suggest that youth bulges are associated with an increased risk of violence. However, historical examples of the Asian Tiger states also show that a country can reduce this risk through the provision of opportunities for young people, primarily by providing education. The level of secondary education especially appears to have a clearly pacifying effect on large youth bulges.
While expanding opportunities for education generally pacify youth, however it is equally important to ensure that with expanding opportunities for education, the prospect of employment opportunities also needs to be expanded or otherwise the unemployed youth will become a reason for instability creating a law and order situation.
Now what does all this discussion have to do with democracy? The answer is rather simple! Countries that have both youth bulges and unstable political regimes are likely to enter into long-term conflict as political instability will not allow for policies and planning to effectively utilize the potential of the young population and in the absence of such planning the alienated youth is likely to take justice into its own hands. Most African states are evidence of this hypothesis.
On the other hand, sustainable democracy allows the sitting government to make long-term plans for development that will inevitably take into account such indicators as health, education and livelihood – all of which will then contribute towards harnessing the energies of its young people.
Also, unlike other systems of governance such as monarchy or dictatorship, elections are held every few years in a democratic state, thus maintaining a constant pressure on the sitting government to offer its citizens a better standard of living or face the risk of being voted out. This pressure ensures that governments do not become lazy or take their powers for granted.
Accordingly, a democratic government ensures that development initiatives remain a priority to garner the goodwill of the masses. This in turn ensures that huge projects associated with better education, health and employment generation are constantly being introduced thus ensuring that on one hand the young people are kept engaged through education and on the other hand they become contributers towards development once they grow older.
Former UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, summarized this whole phenomenon perfectly when he said, “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”

We live in a world where each one of us is bombarded with at least a few hundred messages every day. Switch on the television or flip open a newspaper and there’s one brand or the other selling everything from shampoo to happiness! Out in the streets gigantic hoardings insist why we should try a specific restaurant or a new, improved brand of tea. For those of us who have pre-paid cellular connections know too well the menace of a constantly beeping cell phone owing to “mobile advertisements”. Then of course there is the social media where in addition to the paid advertisements the status updates, tweets and even memes have become a way to disseminate messages aimed either at promoting products and services or inspiring some sort of behavioral change.

Why are we ranting on about the constant flow of messages and media? Glad you asked! In today’s blog we will discuss the many ways and means that media shapes our world view especially vis-à-vis elections – and why it has taken centre stage in the last couple of decades as an important source for educating voters.

Let’s first try to understand why a free and fair media is considered essential for free and fair elections. To cut a rather long dissertation short let’s put it this way: a free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also essentially about processes where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. It is for this reason that the media is today considered a key actor to democratic elections, which on one hand provides eligible voters with information to make independent choices and on the other hand safeguards the transparency of the electoral process. Thus, a democratic election with no media freedom would make it very difficult to ascertain just how free and fair an election actually was.

Well, as Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility” – thus it’s important to understand that media’s engagement in voter education as well as elections is not a one way road where media agencies only have to gather and provide a bunch of facts. In order to fulfill their roles, the media needs to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage. Regulatory frameworks, such as Pakistan Electronic Media Authority (PEMRA) can help ensure high standards. Such laws and regulations ensure freedom of information and expression while at the same time providing a code of ethics under which media outlets must operate.

The whole discussion about media ethics and regulatory authorities brings us to an important and emerging form of media, i.e. online journalism and social media. Citizen journalism is widely gaining popularity as it has provided average people with the power to share and disseminate information. In the 2013 general elections held in Pakistan we saw how images ranging from huge voter turnout to that of electoral rigging were picked up by conventional media only after they became viral on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, since social media is still an emerging phenomenon a lot of information floating around on the internet cannot be verified. It is for this reason that conventional media must be careful before reporting anything taken from social media sources. This is especially important because a prime responsibility of media is to provide the voters with full and accurate information.

Media’s role in voter education is not merely restricted to providing information to potential voters but it also serves as a platform for interaction between the political parties as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the public.

The Election Commission has a need to communicate information to the people and within general public to specific groups including the political parties, candidates, women, youth and minorities. Media then serves as an important tool for the ECP to reach out to its target audiences. Thus, both during the campaign phase and on the day of the elections itself, (much like the makers of shampoos and tea brands), the ECP uses media in a variety of ways to get its various messages through.

On the other hand the media too has a great deal of interest in the ECP. The media is interested in the information that the Election Commission has to provide and at the same time will try to scrutinize the ECP’s performance, efficiency and integrity of the elections.

The same formula also applies on the relationship between the media and various contesting political parties and candidates.

This two-way relationship collectively helps to keep the voters informed, engaged and encouraged to take part in the elections and safeguard against interference or corruption in the management or conduct of the electoral process.

When we think about voter education, most people assume that it is only the responsibility of Election Commission or the government to introduce activities aimed at making voters aware of their rights and responsibilities. Well, think again – because there’s so much at an individual like you and I can do to promote voter education! In this blog we’ll discuss the many ways and means through which each of us can contribute to community voter awareness raising activities.

There are a miscellany of actions that provide information on election procedures to both current and future voters. Most of them will take position outside the premises of District Election Commission offices. By being part of such awareness sessions, we can learn a whole host of things that we can do to support Election Commission f Pakistan’s efforts to educate voters.

Various activities, depending on our own interest, resources or comfort can be adopted for raising awareness among voters. A typical but very effective activity can be (participating in or organizing) awareness raising walks/rallies. These walks and rallies present a highly visible and participatory way of distributing information. They can take place in villages/townships/cities with students, District Coordination Officers, union council offices, Civil Society Organizations, rights’ activists, trade union members, bar association members, press club members, private corporations, local government line departments and other collaborators. Motivational posters and banners encouraging people, especially voters from marginalized groups, to register and turn up to vote, as well as informational messages developed by DECs can be displayed during the event. Bear in mind that local agencies will have to be approached before the event to receive a no objection certificate and agree upon a path that is both secure and visible. Voter education materials such as stickers, brochures, etc., developed by the Election Commission can also be distributed to community members during the event.

Baithak can be another activity for community awareness as these are community based meetings. Baithaks are very popular in rural areas across Pakistan. Such meetings can be arranged at the village level to share information and educate voters on electoral processes. All categories of eligible voters can be invited to these meetings.

Another activity that can take place with the help of DEC is “Mock Elections Simulate”. Such an activity simulates actual voting and counting procedures at the polling place on Election Day. The aim of the simulation is to present voting and counting mechanisms to the intended audience, by involving them in the process through participatory interactions. The target of the simulation is any group of voters or future citizens.

other activities might include Interactive Presentations and Q&A sessions on electoral processes, for this activity DEC members will have to be invited to visit sites frequented by eligible voters to furnish data on electoral processes and answer related questions from the community.

District Committee members and other stakeholders may help organize and deliver these presentations. Target groups cover all eligible voters, particularly those from marginalized groups such as women, youth, minorities and the disabled.. The presentations may be oral or conducted with the aid of multimedia facilities (where such facilities are available).

Finally, debates, skits and poetry competitions are the most easily conducted activities. Collaborations can be made with DECs and educational institutes. To spread awareness to the broader public, community members may be invited to attend these events at the premises of the institution or students could venture out to conduct the activities at venues frequented by eligible voters from the community, such as arts councils, community centres, government offices, clubs and associations, etc. DECs may facilitate the events by providing educational material, banners, honourary prizes and certificates. Sample topics for the activities can be ‘signifigance of the right to vote’, ‘why have elections’, or ‘need to accept elections result peacefully’.

So there! Now you know how you can become an educator for the eligible voters in your area by dedicating just a lttle bit of your time and energy!

In 2000, a new citizen registration system was introduced in Pakistan. The new process was handled by a new authority named NADRA. This came as a breath of fresh air, modernization of the most basic of needs of any citizen: their National Identity Card. Our old system was severely outdated, with no readable or computerized biometric record and I am not sure even if it was centralized. The new system, no doubt, sorted a lot of data maintenance issues.

But, as one of the most civilly “responsible” nation that we are, I am sure we still have citizens out there who have yet to get their new ID cards. Although, all of our legal documentation requires the NADRA ids, but still.

The process for getting a CNIC is relatively easy. A one stop shop, if I may be allowed to say so, can provide you with your identity paper in a few days.

A couple of months back, my mother’s CNIC expired and we had to get it renewed. She was avoiding it as she didn’t want to wait in long ques. Believing in the new digitalized process I motivated her to go with me on Friday a day NADRA has specified for female registration only. But I must admit even after giving her a good dose of motivation I myself was curious on the process and if it would make my mother wait for so long. So I consulted our best friend for research- Google on how to get a CNIC.

The process according to the NADRA web site (www.nadra.gov.pk) is as follows:

· Data Acquisition at Data Acquisition Unit (DAU)

Issuance of Token
Photo Capturing
Thumb and Signatures
Data Acquisition by DEO
Form Printing
Attestation & Form Submission
· Data uploading to NADRA Data Warehouse

· Verification and Clearance from NADRA Data Warehouse

· Printing at Production

· Delivery of CNIC to NSRC

Seemed simple enough and to an extent relieved me also. With a time investment of an hour give or take, I took my mother to the female NADRA centre for CNIC renewal.

But minutes after reaching the centre I realized that the website failed to mention, that the authority, being the flag bearer of the same slow paced system of our country, will make you wait for hours, with no proper seating or water or toilet arrangements in their offices.

Being the capitalist society that we are, your anguish of waiting in long queues, is shortened if you pay more. The value of your time is directly proportional to the amount of money you can dole out.

I fail to understand that even after “paying” why one does has to pay. Be it the lines at tax office when filing returns, be it while paying the utility bills, be it when one wants to get petrol or gas tank filled, be it when one has to get a passport or for the matter of this discussion a CNIC. How any “efficient” system manages to do that, I am always baffled. It must take a lot of planning and hard work!

But in case of Pakistan in particular there is one thing in the process I cannot understand- the attestation of documents. I mean NADRA has all the record in one place at the finger tips but will send us to get it attested from a 17 grade officer, whom in most of the cases will have no idea who we are. And the same drill is to be repeated for renewal.

NADRA was formed with the mission to facilitate people, make them feel valued and cared for. To an extent it did serve the purpose, but majorly some loopholes exist.

What is a relief for me is that my mother got her CNIC and I am sure the next time she will have to get it, it would not take much of an effort convincing her. All I wish that next time she doesn’t have to wait for so long and give the data that NADRA already has.

P.S. A note for all you readers is visit NADRA’s website, learn the process, make sure you all have your CNICs, share your opinion to make the process efficient and don’t lose hope!

In the previous blog we discussed about the various resources available for education of Voters in Pakistan. Today we’ll talk about District committees and their role in voter education.

The Voter Education Plan 2012-2013 introduces a district centered approach, which endeavors to build a direct relationship between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and voters through District Election Commissioners’ (DEC) offices and staff. A crucial component of this Plan is the formation of District Committees, which will be coordinated by DECs and supervised by Regional Election Commissioners (RECs). Now let’s take a closer look at how these committees work.

District Committees serve as a forum at the district level where two way dialogues can take place between DECs and multiple stakeholders including youth, women, minorities and the community members as a whole. This forum provides an opportunity to share views, plans and updates, as well as to design and implement joint Voter Education activities that target various voter groups.

The Voter Education plan that was chalked out prior to the 2013 general elections, the District Committee can include but does not have to be limited to regional election commissioner (chairperson), district election commissioner (coordinator), community development department or social welfare department, CSOs (including youth, women, minorities and people with disabilities), representatives of political parties, representatives of local government departments and representatives of the Education Department. In addition to the above, DECs may develop an extensive list of other stakeholders and potential partners in their respective region, who may be invited to join the Committee as members or occasional observers. They may include but are not limited to former and current local councilors; Union council secretaries, District coordination officers; school teachers and college/university lecturers, lady health workers (LHWs), religious leaders, community leaders, tribal leaders, landlords, trade union representatives, journalists and lawyers. In short, any member of the relevant local community can be eligible to be a part of the District Committee – even you!

Before forming the District Committee, DECs may organize introductory visits to these various stakeholders or invite them to meetings at the DEC offices to present the ECP Voter Education Plan and their intention of forming a Committee.

Now that you know what District Committees are, now let’s talk about what roles District Committees Perform? According to ECP voter education plan, the District Committee meets on a regular basis and seeks voluntary participation of various members of the community. They engage community based civil society organizations registered with the district Social Welfare Department to work on Voter Education, seek voluntary support to disseminate voter awareness materials and focus on reaching out to marginalized voter groups in the district, including women, people with disabilities and all minority groups. District Committee also seek the support of political parties in increasing voter participation by developing district specific strategies to increase awareness on the importance of the vote and its impact on the country’s institutions.

In the next elections in your district keep an eye for the formation of the District Committee and play your role in Voter Education!

We Pakistanis are always discussing two things; cricket and politics. If any of us does not discuss these topics at least once every two days, I start doubting their nationality. So, following and propagating the Pakistani culture, we friends were having a heated debate on the current political situation in the country. And of course, following another national tradition, we were criticizing the class of rulers we elect by casting our votes. We started discussing the individuals we had voted or not voted for in our respective constituencies. We dissected their rise in politics to their family backgrounds, their statements, so on and so forth. And our heated debate of “one up man ship” stopped at the query “how do these people even get elected?”

This, as it turned out to be was a million dollar question. One of our friends took out his phone and from the national assembly web site read out these pre requisites for an aspiring MNA:

He should be citizen of Pakistan
Not less than 25 years of age
His name must be enrolled as a voter in the electoral list
He should also fulfill the qualities provided in Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
After he finished reading, almost all of us said unanimously “that’s it?” the answer was affirmative. All of us went into deep thought. Our contemplation ranging from “man that’s too simple” to “there has to be more” and “what is 62 & 63” “who will define the Article 62 & 63” and “if these guys can pass this scrutiny, it should be a piece of cake for me”

Then the argument erupted on a level not known to us before that moment. What is that they have and we do not that makes them qualify to be in the parliament? The answer was simple: 60 to 70 thousand votes!

The discourse of the deliberations shifted to how those are acquired. All of us agreed, at least for that one instant in the night that its because these are the only options available to voters. These are the only faces they are familiar with, these are the only names they get to read & hear.

And probably the reason for this is advertising campaigns. The massive advertisements on TV, fierce poster pasting, sticker distributing, corner meeting, grip & grin movement that seems super human. And of course, most of these things have a price tag.

Our designated “google boy” searched for the ceiling of spending election commission has given to a MNA for the campaign. The answer was 1.5 million. We all laughed aloud and to the point when our ribs started aching. The answer was obvious. The difference between them and us was that of at least Rs.3 million.

So the question the night wrapped up with was, are we eligible to contest, are we eligible to meet the ‘contemporary requirements’ and are we eligible be a parliamentarian at all?

For most voters the idea of voting is merely restricted to three primary items: a polling station, a ballot paper and a ballot box. This is especially true for first time voters, whose excitement to caste their vote is often more pronounced than their understanding of the many steps that ought to be considered before and after entering the inside of a polling station.

Much like most first-time voters, my first experience of casting my vote (which should have ideally taken under half an hour) became a three hour ordeal! This happened simply because I had convinced myself that knowing the election symbol of my candidate was all there was to voting – and boy was I wrong!

To help voters in general and young or first time voters in particular, this blogpost will discuss three important questions, i.e. “What is voter education?”, “Why is voter education important” and “What methods are available in Pakistan to facilitate anyone who wants to learn about it?”

Let’s start with answering the first question. Simply put voter education is any effort made by the Election Commission of Pakistan or public or private entity that aims to enhance the understanding of voters of electoral rolls, encourage them to check their details on the Final Electoral Rolls (FER) and supports in improving the voter turnout.

Voter Education is imperative for creating awareness amongst voters of all ages, belonging to all walks of life in order to increase their overall participation. Efforts geared towards Voter Education are often positioned to include the training of general masses, on several aspects of the elections – from campignig to casting the vote.

In the past, Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) efforts for Voter Education were mainly grounded in providing information through conventional print and electronic media, commencing shortly before electoral events and ending immediately thereafter. However, low voter turnout in previous elections highlighted the acute need for a different plan of action. Accordingly, in the recent General Elections held in 2013, we saw that ECP shifted strategy from merely disseminating Voter Information to developing more holistic Civic and Voter Education programs.

And this brings us to our third question, i.e. “What methods are available in Pakistan to facilitate anyone who wants to learn about it?” The ECP’s Voter Education Plan 2012-2013 revolves around a district centered approach, where staff at district offices become important actors responsible for implementing grassroots level voter education activities. Their aim is to directly reach out to all eligible voters, i.e. youth, women, people with disabilities, minorities and men. These groups are important because of their numbers and in most cases also because of their marginalized social status that often excludes them from exercising their right to Adult Franchise.

District Committees use a variety of means to approach and educate different categories of voters. These methods include, District Committee meetings held with community representatives, trainings for school, college and university staff; community voter awareness raising activities; Information Sessions at the offices of Provincial and District Election Commissioners; development and dissemination of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials; public service announcements and media engagement.

In our next blog we’ll discuss all the above mentioned methods, how individual voters can access these resources and benefit from them. Keep reading!

Irrespective of the language, culture or social norms of a specific region, there are certain integral values that remain unchanged across borders and divides. For instance, nowhere in the world have we ever seen masses demanding widespread anarchy and disorder; on the contrary, world over people want a functional system of governance to maintain rule of law in the society. Accordingly, it seems safe to assume that to see order and stability in the society is something that is inherent to all human beings. It is this integral need that propels us all to rally behind political leaders, cheer for them during processions and vote for them during elections – all the time hoping that the leader of our choice will bring prosperity once s/he is in power. However, our desire to see betterment in the society is not time bound and so it does not cease to exist upon casting the vote. This desire continues even after a new government is in place, driving us to scrutinize policies and actions of our governments and leaders. It is this drive for constant improvement in the environment around us that gives rise to another integral value that people across the world hold dear: accountability.

Accountability, by many, is considered the fourth leg of the metaphorical chair of good governance. It helps the masses to evaluate the effectiveness of public officials and public offices, ensures that they are performing to their full potential and ensures that at any given point in time there is enough public pressure on the political leaders to be responsive to the community they are meant to serve.

So, how can accountability be exercised? What mechanism should an average voter adopt to have his/her concerns heard? Who should we complain to and how can we reach such people and offices?

In Pakistan there are a number of institutions whose sole or partial purpose is to ensure that the government and its officials run the affairs of the state as transparently as possible. There are also specialized institutions where general people like you and I can lodge a complaint or register a concern that we might have regarding the functioning of the government.

Most of us here in Pakistan are well aware of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). With its offices in all the major cities of the country, NAB is Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organization. Any and every Pakistani citizen is eligible to approach NAB with evidence against guilty government office holders, whether political or bureaucratic. The icing on the cake for the informer is that if the corrupt official is convicted because of his/her tip, NAB will also reward him/her!

While NAB is the primary government organization entrusted with the task of ensuring transparency, other public institutions include Public Accounts Committee, the Judicial Commission, Election Commission of Pakistan, Ombudsman institutions, the Federal Investigation Agency and various provincial agencies. For economic governance, there is another set of institutions: the State Bank of Pakistan, the Competition Commission of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Apart from government organizations mentioned above, the Parliament itself is one of the most important structures in the ‘chain of accountability’. The Parliament does not merely form the bridge between people and the government but its role is also critical because it is also the institution to which many accountability institutions report. Moreover, a Parliament and its elected representatives are important vehicles through which citizens and civic groups can also extract enforcement of various laws and policies.

Finally, the citizens have a dual role when it comes to ensuring accountable governance. On one hand the government generates data regarding its functioning to keep the citizens informed and on the other hand, the citizens themselves are an important source to generate data for better accountability. Confused? Let me explain! You see, in the age of smart phones, 24/7 internet connectivity and social media platforms such as Twitter, citizens can now hold the government and its officials accountable without a moment’s delay.

In short, there are sound mechanisms in place to ensure checks and balances for transparent and effective governance. However, it is not just the responsibility of the government to ensure the effectiveness of these mechanisms but every citizen also has an important role to play. So, whether it’s reaching out to NAB with important evidence or raising hue and cry on social media, you and I are the most important players in ensuring good, transparent governance!

Political development in Pakistan is passing at critical stage as on the one hand, democracy has succeeded to achieve its continuity through General Elections 2013, and on the other hand, this hitherto recognized smooth transfer of democratic regime face threats based on often alleged accusations of electoral rigging, energy crisis, and ‘friendly opposition’. In view of some citizens’ lead by some political parties, the political party in rule have made collusion with mainstream opposition parties and face no opposition to whatever it is doing in the name of governance. This accusation may be true because in developed democracies, constructive opposition plays significant role in setting governments on right track and as effective tool of governments’ accountability. If opposition in parliament becomes friend with government, the process of accountability can be hindered. Nevertheless, one should make difference between constructive and friendly opposition.In Pakistan, as a matter of fact we can say that democratic development is at stage where both treasury and opposition are evolving constructively. On the one hand, governments are being made on coalition of rival political parties, and on the other hand, opposition now side with government on matters of national interests. The good example is the unanimous and historic decision of ‘National Action Plan’ by all political parties against terrorism in December 2014. Similarly, the politics of political tussle, blame game, and victimization prevailing in 80s and 90s have ended now. However, there is long way to go for good fruits of democracy and its continuity, and political parties will have to adopt international best practices of governance and style of construction opposition. The opposition parties should pressurize the government to follow broader national agenda rather than focusing on regional development according to constitution of Pakistan and also promises made in electoral manifestoes. The opposition, through parliamentary committee system, motions, resolutions, and questions in parliamentary sessions, can make governments accountable for policies adopted and their implementation. If opposition fail to do all this, citizens are right in their accusations of friendly opposition and apprehensions.

Know your candidate
In developed democracies citizens cast their vote on the basis of political ideology, collective interests, and manifesto of political parties. Nevertheless, in this part of the world where we live, vote is casted based on self-interests, biradary (caste system), language, ethnicity, sectarian affiliation, and local groupings ( dharay bandi ki siyasat). In doing this voters even do not really know the persons to whom he or she is voting. It is also observed that citizens vote candidates or political parties of their likeliness without knowing the profiles of political parties or candidates. Although political parties issue their political manifesto before elections, nonetheless, such manifestos remain locked and are even not read by their ticket holders, the citizens’ access to manifestos is the remote question. The candidates provide their information to election commission that also remain hidden from citizens. As a result, elections brings the parliament comprising a blend of various affiliations, interests, and aspirations.Due to this very fact, governments formed on coalition of political parties and some interest groups often fail to deliver the collective public interests in pursuance of their vested interests and aspirations. In disappointment, citizens think governments’ failure as failure of democracy and start blaming on democracy as flawed and failed system. The need of the time is citizens should learn the relationship of elections with democracy and good governance. Elections held in integrity brings a true government elected by the people through their informed decision. An informed decision is when voters know their political parties and candidates of their choice, their past performances, their manifestos, and their credibility of being good parliamentarian, their social and economic profiles. Such government formed on citizens’ informed decision will deliver good governance according to people aspirations. Only what matters is ‘know your candidate’.

Young people’s political participation has been a growing concern since long. Loss of community ties, lack of political process, low level of trust on politicians and growing suspension on democratic institutions are many reasons of youngster’s week political association. But recent trends reveal that youth are much more interested into political knowledge than ever before. Labels like “the youth are apathetic” or they do not care about politics are enforced upon them by a status quo that does not understand the needs of young people. Young people are concerned with policy developments and the trajectory that their country is going through.Pakistan is one of the world’s largest youth bulge country with more than 63% of the population under the age of 25. The young and dynamic population is considered as an omen to the prosperity and future of the country. According to ECP, out of the total 85.42 million registered voters, 19.77 per cent of total voters were less than 26 years of age, while 14.91 per cent were between 26 to 30 years. The overall voter turnout recorded in General Election 2013 at 55.02%, much higher than elections since 80’s. The massive registration of the young population in election is an indication of revival of youth engagement in politics.Although, the increased youth engagement in politics is a good sign for flourishing democracy, this gives rise to many questions on how to keep the young blood motivated for future. Several high profile initiatives aiming at youth political participation including the launch of social media campaigns by several parties and the distribution of free laptops to students by the Punjab government has failed to engage youth permanently. These are mere temporary efforts gaining the support during elections. But all the actions seem dying off after the elections. We have yet not witnessed any concrete steps taken by the government to keep youth politically active.There is a strong need to diversify the avenues for youth political participation to discuss national issues. There are several young aspirants out there, who are highly motivated to get involved into politics even at a very young age. What they lack is a platform, where they can enhance their political understanding. The ban on student unions and violent nature of university politics makes it unattractive for youngsters. It is essentially required to build political youth organizations to engage youth in politics and keep them motivated to play best possible role for the future of the country. Engagement of young people should be the responsibility of everyone. Youth engagement should be acknowledged as a stirring strategy to create an impact in the lives of everyone.

We often hear politicians referring to the ‘court of people’ on TV. Whenever some politician is prosecuted against alleged corruption, we hear this ‘mantra’ of ‘the court of people’. The argument goes like this: Since people elected me, so they will decide whether I am crooked or not’. I find this argument absolutely amusing. Never underestimate power of crooked politician in muddling up issues! How can courts of law be interchanged with elections to determine whether somebody is financially clean or not? Elections only determine as to what extent a political party or a politician is able to articulate the demands of people. So, a politician may be extremely good at articulating demands of people and corrupt at the same time. That is why people all over the word have at times ended up electing politicians who later turned out to be corrupt. So, popularity of a politician is not a guarantee that the politician is financially clean as well. When facing corruption charges, they want to go the court of law so that they could dodge corruption charges while riding on the wave of popularity. Another mantra of politicians is political victimization when corruption cases are lodged against them. It is a fact as politicians have victimized each other, especially in the 90s. Police and other agencies have been used as tools by ruling set of politicians for their vested interests, including for selective accountability raising doubts about the way corruption related cases of politicians have been handled. As a consequence, our politicians have ended up politicizing serious issue of corruption. This is where the trouble lies. In other words, corruption is too serious a business to be left alone to the politicians. However, it is these politicians as our elected representatives have to put in place an accountability mechanism which has the legitimacy to conduct across-the-board accountability. In this regard, media, civil society groups and concerned citizens will have to play a crucial role in ensuring that effective accountability mechanisms are put in place at federal level and in all provinces. In this connection, comparative performance of recently established accountability commission in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and National Accountability Bureau can be very instructive after couple of years.

Being a woman myself, this blog post is rather close to my heart. I belong to the lot of fortunate urban women who can exercise their voting rights, however there are still many areas in Pakistan where women are either discouraged or out-rightly banned by the local communities from casting their votes. For quite a while now I’ve found myself complaining about women’s lack of participation in the voting process but most of my venting has been with close friends and family. However, I believe it’s about time that I stop preaching to the already converted and speak with everyone and anyone who’s interested in listening!

Now I understand that the 2013 General Elections showed some level of improvement, with a relatively higher female political participation. This is especially worth acknowledging because this higher level of women’s participation was despite terrorist threats and patriarchal opposition in certain remote areas.Women were also more actively involved politically, with more than 450 female candidates contesting for the seats in the National Assembly alone.

However, despite these improvements a lot more needs to be done before all Pakistani women can exercise their constitutional right of voting. Ironically, even today many political parties fall to the wishes of extremist and conservative forces when it comes to women’s political participation. We saw a glaring example of this in 2013 when the candidates of almost all the major political parties signed accords in the tribal regions barring women voters from casting votes or taking part in the political process!

This sort of behavior by political actors is unfathomable given the fact that under the devolution of power plan in 2000, the government reserved 33% seats at all tiers (national, provincial and local government) for women.

When given space and freedom to act, Pakistani women have always been a source of positive contribution in the political arena. Women parliamentarians have played a pivotal role in forming women-led caucuses and tabling key legislative bills. Furthermore, in Pakistan female politicians have held key offices such as former Prime Minister (Late) Benazir Bhutto who held the office from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996 being the first PM of any Muslim country. Similarly there are many female politicians from all the parties have held key positions. Equally important is the fact that the overwhelming presence of nearly 40,000 women in local councils since 2000 has contributed enormously towards mainstreaming women into politics.

In the same realm we must also acknowledge the efforts of Malala Yousufzai, young Pakistani activist for female education and youngest female Nobel laureate as well and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar. While these young women are not politicians they nevertheless exhibit the immense potential that Pakistani women have and how they excel and make the whole country proud when given freedom to follow their passions and put their skills to practice.

I can’t emphasize enough that this is the right time to make a sincere effort in order to ensure the participation and freedom of the women in elections. Every little effort by you and me can really go a long, long way in empowering female voters in our country. So next time you want to indulge in some drawing discussion on local politics, are looking for a meaningful subject to tweet on or you’re planning on sending out a letter to your local newspaper’s editor, make sure that inclusion of female voters is among the topics that you discuss. A little effort from all of us is pivotal for bringing a big shift in women’s political role in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s outgoing National Assembly of 2013 was the first one in the country’s history to complete a full five-year term. This elected assembly was also exceptional in another aspect. The activity of female parliamentarians was astounding. 20 out of 53 private members’ bills during the government’s tenure were moved by women, and women outperformed their male counterparts in terms of formal interventions during parliamentary proceedings

Although I am not a parliamentarian or someone close to the house, but, as a keen student of media and politics, I often noticed that women parliamentarians went the extra mile and put in the extra effort to prove their worth. Interestingly, even after proving their worth and effectiveness, the number of female candidates contesting General Elections in 2013 were fewer (36) than the number of female candidates who contested elections in 2002 (38).

Females make up more than 50% of our population. But their representation in the National Assembly is not at par with these numbers. I am not sure that a man will be as cogent a representative of women population as a woman could be.

One way to have a greater number of women elected directly to parliament would be to mobilize the large number of women in Pakistan who choose to remain outside the political process. Although more women voted in the 2013 elections than ever before, there are still 11 million eligible women who are not even registered to vote. It is in the interest of all political parties to liberate these potential women voters.

We can only have an optimistic future scenario if women are given meaningful participation in legislative process. The collective wisdom of women parliamentarians would go a long way in addressing the issues of the masses.

The women politicians also need to improve their public presence. They usually shy away from gatherings in their constituencies due to diferent reasons. Women politicians should get involved in the extensive social work and enhance their interaction with the community to polish their skills of general politics.

ECP officials shared after the General Elections of 2013 that turn out for women voters was 44 per cent in May 11 elections and 11 female returning officers were appointed. However, there were some 500 polling stations where women’s turnout was zero. It will be prudent if a law is promulgated which declares the results of constituencies null and void where women are not allowed to vote.

I think the most marginalized part of our society is that of transgender. They have got no civic rights what so ever. They are not allowed to study, make their living doing honorable work or the work which we may do ourselves. We cannot accept them doing anything but begging in the streets or dancing at our weddings and child births.

According to figures, there are almost 300,000 transgender in our country. I am sure the figure would be higher. But as we have pushed them to the periphery of the society and our living districts, they do not gel well with the main stream population and now reside in places less frequented by others.

Though, our law has been considerate, but the implementation efforts were not that generous. Our constitution guarantees that every citizen of the country will have equal rights. “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.” reads one of the articles of our constitutions. But, can that be said when we talk about transgender?

They got the right to a CNIC just 3 years back!

A few of our parties approached them for their votes. Yet, none of our political parties’ manifesto had anything in it for this marginalized part of our society.

There have been instances of their involvement in our electoral process. One of them was brave enough to contest the elections. I was going through one of his interviews and it made a very interesting read. The interview showed the reality of our political system in a candid honest, yet shameful way.

The person said that even after the elections have gone, he still gets death threats. He had to be escorted by the police during his election campaign due to security concerns. The police is not helping in regards to the death threats and the best solution they have offered him so far is, “turn your phone off”. Just imagine the agony a citizen of any country would feel if those responsible to protect him would give such an answer. I am sure the other candidates would have gotten a better response from the law enforcement agencies.

The poor soul was not even eyeing for the win in the election. According to his own words, his victory was when his nomination papers were accepted. And that too were through Sindh High Court, as his papers were earlier rejected by the competent authorities.

Pointing out to the reasons of his loss, he was certain that funding was the most important aspect of a campaign. His opponents had enough money to plaster the whole constituency with their messages.

If we envision democracy being strengthened in our country, democratic values gaining roots in our system, we have to provide every one with a level playing field otherwise the current state of affairs will sow seeds of hatred in our political system to the extent of embitterment.