As Pakistan draws closer to election day when the country’s voters will elect new a National Assembly and four provincial assemblies, it would be useful to reflect on the shape, size and social composition of the electorate. The people who will elect the 2018 assemblies will be different from those who chose the ones that will go out of business by the end of May. For the first time in the country’s electoral history, the coming elections will be dominated by the aspirations of the very young in the country. There is now enough data generated by the census of 2017 and the work released by the United Nations Development Programme in Pakistan to give us some clues about the direction in which the country is headed. The youth, it appears, are both resentful and hopeful.
Between 20 and 22 million young people will have the right to cast their vote for the first time. They would have reached the voting age since the elections of 2013. Who are they, where are they located and what do they want from the country’s political and economic systems? The political parties that are able to correctly answer these questions will triumph and govern for the next five years when, in 2023, the country will go to the polls again.
However, before I look at the electoral scene, it would be useful to make a few points about Pakistan’s political development since 2007 when the street succeeded in bringing about political change. Then thousands of lawyers came out to protest a move by the military dictator of the time to illegally remove the Chief Justice of Pakistan. This move was not acceptable to the legal community. They took to the street to demand the reversal of the military president’s decision. This move by the lawyers preceded the Arab Spring of 2011 that shook the Middle East and launched two countries, Syria and Yemen, into long civil wars. But when historians look back they will agree that what the lawyers in Pakistan did then was of greater significance than what was accomplished by the Arab youth.
Some of what is happening today in Pakistan can be traced back to 2007. It produced three results that are likely to last. One, it established that a large group of people believed that the rule of law must prevail…