Elections 2013: In Islamabad, first-time voters have diversified priorities

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 28, 2013.

Islamabad – They are young, they have the right to vote and they are willing to use it.

More than 100,000 Islamabad residents under the age of 26 are eligible to cast their votes for the capital’s two National Assembly constituencies this election season. Most of them will be voting for their very first time ever.

According to age-wise voter statistics available on the ECP’s website, 19.4 per cent of Islamabad’s around 0.6 million registered voters are between the ages of 18 to 25. Nationwide, around 16.9 million voters below the age of 26 are slated to vote on May 11.

The potential of youth to affect the outcome of the 2013 general elections is evident in Islamabad, as young voters appear to be relishing their first encounter with the electoral process.

“It is every citizen’s responsibility to vote,” said 20-year-old Abdul Samad, an electrical engineering student at the Federal Urdu University and resident of sector F-10. “I’m definitely not going to shy away from my responsibility.”

Samad will be using his first-ever vote to support Jamaat-e Islami (JI) candidate Mian Aslam in NA-48. His decision, he says, is based on Aslam’s support and accessibility to his constituents, even when he was not in power.

Two sectors to the south-east, Waqar-ur-Rehman is going to use his vote to cancel Samad’s.

Rehman, 21, a software engineering student, is supporting veteran politician Javed Hashmi, who is running on PTI’s ticket against Aslam in NA-48.

“Given our history of politics, we need to give a new party the chance,” Rehman explained the rationale behind his support for PTI.

This seemingly well-informed 18-25 bracket is the second-largest chunk of voters in the capital, after the age bracket of 31-40 that constitutes around 22 per cent of the city’s total votes.

The ECP last updated the age-wise voter list in February.

Since then the ECP has revised the total number of voters in Islamabad to 629,233 from 609,517 — an increase of 19,716 votes.

An ECP official told The Express Tribune the updated age-wise breakdown of voters would be made public in the next few days.

Young women make up 40.7 per cent of Islamabad’s below-26 voters.

“I am going to vote because this is the first time I have the chance to be a part of the electoral process and it won’t be five years, hopefully, before I get another chance,” Rehma Hyder, 22, said.

Hyder, a graduate student, said she has settled upon PTI in her constituency of NA-48, because the other parties have fielded previously elected candidates who never delivered on their promises.

While the PTI seems to have captivated many young urban Islooites, the youth support is fragmented in rural areas.

On Wednesday, when Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate who is on a re-election bid from NA-49, took out a rally from Koral Chowk to Chatta Bakhtawar, several young men on motorcycles enthusiastically got the road cleared for his motorcade.

NA-49 is a predominantly rural constituency, in contrast to the 80%-urban NA-48.

Chaudhry, who is increasingly getting locked in a four-way battle with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, PTI’s Ilyas Meherban and JI’s Farooq Zubair Khan, can do with the support of youngsters such as 18-year-old Ashfaq Hussain.

“I’ll vote for Chaudhry because he has promised to get roads constructed in our area,” Hussain, a matriculation student from Rawat, said.

Municipal issues are not important just to the rural electorate. Samad and Rehman also said they expect their elected representatives to solve power and water shortages.

The PPP, which was in power during the past years, is not absent from the youth mix either.

“I and one of my uncles are the only ones supporting PPP in our family, which supports PML-N based on clan ties,” said Raheel Ahmed Awan, whose vote is registered in NA-49. “I’ve made this decision dispassionately based on Khokhar’s personality and his ideas for our constituency.”

Out of the dozens of youngsters who spoke to The Express Tribune, only a few said they were not going to vote at all.

“This vote is a national trust, we should not waste at any cost,” Awan, 23, said. “Even if there is no worthy candidate, we should still vote.”

The undecided youth voters in Islamabad still have 13 days to figure out if they want to make their vote count or not.

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