Boost Youth Involvement In Politics

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Although former prime minister and UML chief KP Sharma  Oli has proclaimed that he was  physically and mentally fit  to lead the party at least  for next twenty years, the  ground level reality does not support  his elan. The UML itself seems prepared to allow and groom the younger generation to enable them to take over the mantle of leadership. The example of Ilam by-election supports it. There may be several reasons in nominating Suhang Nemwang as the CPN- UML candidate for the Ilam by-lection such as the scion of a worthy predecessor like late Subhash Nemwang, his being youth may be one of the reasons why the party’s choice fell on him. It is contended that Suhang’s candidacy constitutes a continuation of the dynastic politics that the UML has practiced time and again with a view to harvest the sympathy votes to win electoral contest. This line of argument should have some bit of truth as well.

However, the political parties should take cognizance of the fact that selecting party candidates for the competitive polls with consideration of cronyism and nepotism may bring adverse consequences as well. The party insiders and functionaries may not be happy with this unfair and unjust practice unbecoming of democratic republican ethos and norms.  As a result, the frustrated and disenchanted party voters may defect and switch their loyalty to the rival political camps. Notwithstanding the UML’s case in Ilam, Nepal’s politics looks set to go through a process of leadership transition. This process is not indeed impacting a single or so- called leftist or the rightist political parties. 

Challenges 

This phenomenon has more or less occupied the entire political milieu in Nepal. The dominance of elder generation in party leadership has ruled the political roost invariably and dictated its course of action for several decades now. However, it is gradually facing the challenge of retaining its acceptability and legitimacy in the evolving political scene of Nepal. The challenges to the senior generation of leadership have become more articulate and vociferous during last parliamentary and local elections as well.

The people's frustration and discontent with the political parties and their leadership has been expressed through the vote. This has found clear expression as the independent candidates like Balendra Shah from Kathmandu, Gopi Hamal from Dhangadhi and Harka Sampang from Dharan won the mayoral contest in their respective constituencies. The unexpected victory of Rabi Lamichhane-led Nepal Swatantra Party (RSP) garnering around 21 parliamentary seats in the last federal legislative polls lent a boost to aspirations of youths to join and engage in the politics. The increased engagement and participation of youths in politics in Nepal is differs somehow from global trend as youth disengagement in politics has become a matter of major global concern.

 According to US-based Freedom House and other analysis and metrics, democratic backsliding has become almost a global trend. Amid this environment comes a rash of statistics suggesting that the world’s young people are increasingly disengaged from political life. Youths are voting less, rejecting party membership, and telling researchers that their country’s leaders aren’t working in their interests. But at the same time, according to the reports, young people remain engaged in civic life if not in political life. They attend demonstrations, use the internet to make their voices heard, and are active outside the traditional political sphere, like in business, at school, and in religious communities.

 Lower level participation in elections among young people is a long-established trend across the globe especially in the European countries. Although official voter-turnout figures to account youth participation are not always available, data collected through surveys and other studies clearly show decreasing voter turnout in all democracies since the 1980s, and that this decline is concentrated among youths. According to the World Values Survey (2022), the world’s average youth (defined as between ages 18 and 29), participation in national elections is 47.7 per cent. The figures vary by country and region, with Latin American youth voting at relatively high rates — often reaching above 65 per cent turnout — while youth in Europe and Africa voting tend to post turnout rates of between 40 and 50 per cent. 

Apathy

Voter turnout in the United States among 18-to-24-year-olds for the 2020 presidential election was 48 per cent, the lowest compared to all other age groups. Low youth electoral participation reflects apathy, mistrust, and dissatisfaction with democratic processes, and feeds into the democratic backsliding narrative. In the classical democracies, youth discontent is driven in large part by perceptions of economic exclusion, illustrated by high youth unemployment and widening economic inequality. In the emerging democracies of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and southern Europe, there is similar disappointment with democratic performance on issues important to young people: education, employment, and opportunity. Moreover, young people also feel excluded from important government decisions that affect their lives and future. 

Another UN global survey found that 76 per cent of respondents under 30 think politicians do not listen to young people. In South Africa, 90 per cent of respondents voiced such views, as did 80 per cent of those in Spain and United Kingdom. These views become less surprising when we consider that while 50 per cent of people on our planet are under 30 years of age. In Nepal, youths are also undoubtedly frustrated with politics and feel deprived of opportunities for health, employment and education exemplified by the massive exodus to overseas for opportunities.  However, during the recent days youths have exhibited their interest to engage in politics and participate in the policy making mechanism and process of the country. This is the welcome development in the politics of Nepal.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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