Pakistan is poised to undergo a paradigm-shifting political event. On May 11, the world’s second-biggest Muslim population will go to the polls in its first-ever significantly tripartisan elections. Though the campaign has been marred with sporadic violence, this will be the first time Pakistan has peacefully transferred governmental power from one democratically elected government to another democratically elected government in its more than six decades of existence. Yet perhaps the most significant characteristic of this election cycle is the makeup of the electorate.
Pakistan is bursting with a young, engaged voting block of millennials. Nearly 60% of Pakistan’s 193 million people are under the age of 30. Over 30% (48 million) of Pakistan is comprised of millennials. This surge of young Pakistanis has dramatically impacted the strata of party politics as well as the conventional lines of power in Pakistan.
The traditional bipartisan struggle between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) has been complicated largely due to this youth surge. Many young Pakistanis in urban areas have given support to the populist party of Imran Khan. While Khan’s party still lags well behind the PPP and the PML, this new brand of Pakistani populism is reinvigorating a tired, apathetic population.
The previous national elections in 2008 garnered an unimpressive 44% voter turnout. The apathy five years ago was due in part to the perception that corruption plagued Pakistan’s politics and would thus stymie any real progress. Mr. Khan, bolstered by an impassioned swell of young voters, has brought fresh air to the process. Many pollsters are predicting a 10% uptick in voter turnout on Saturday.
Mr. Khan is giving young, urban Pakistanis what they want. He has promised everything from fixing many of the problems in Pakistan’s infrastructure to maintaining a campaign free from the vintage corruption that has become a staple in Pakistani elections. The former cricket star has also gained tacit support (or at least an assurance of safety) from the Taliban for his promises to ban U.S. drone strikes in the country where Osama Bin Laden was killed.
With national-security issues at the forefront of world news as well as a litany of internal problems that demand a solution, the 2013 Pakistan elections will be defining for its own populous as well as the global geopolitical landscape. Thus with the youth-fueled increase in voter turnout coupled with their candidate changing the political norms, millennials are priming Pakistan for a new political path. Though pollsters believe Mr. Khan’s populist party will not gain many more than 30 of the 272 seats in Pakistan’s parliament, he is making political waves. Should the youth vote amplify his voice, Mr Khan could help lay the groundwork for a new, progressive brand of politics in Pakistan.