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Unyielding spirit: The silver lining for PTI

ISLAMABAD (PEN) : A young man working in a local hotel in the capital, buoyed by curiosity, approaches a journalist covering Imran’s legal battles at Adiala Jail. As the conversation unfolds, a circle of impassioned citizens gathers, eager to discuss the intricacies of the former premier’s cases, the looming elections, and the post-February 8 political landscape.

Amid a cluster of journalists dissecting Imran’s cases, the young man’s inquiry about the incarcerated leader’s well-being sparks a conversation that resonates with passion and hope.

Answering the queries, Saqib Bashir, the journalist, paints a vivid picture of Imran behind bars—cracking jokes and maintaining a resilient spirit despite facing convictions. The burning question of whether Imran would yield hung in the air, answered only with an emphatic “no, he would not” by a young man whose trust in the leader seemed to run deep.

Although PTI flags, banners or posters are mostly missing from the capital’s main arteries, the man produces a hidden PTI flag from the depths of his jacket, asserting not just his allegiance but a promise that he and his friends would cast their votes for Imran on February 8.

“Two of our friends have decided to quit jobs to vote for PTI because their boss refused to give them leave on polling day,” he shared, adding “he wouldn’t mind leaving the job if it comes to choosing between vote and job.”

Imran Khan’s popularity, both on the ground and in the social media realm, stood resilient against the backdrop of a diverse array of election symbols—ranging from vegetables to household items. PTI clings to one hope—that the people will defy alleged plans by powerful stakeholders to crown PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif once again.

 

“In the polling booth, I will be alone with the ballot paper,” another young man in Mandi Bahauddin, who has recently returned to Pakistan from abroad, said.

Referring to the alleged crackdown, snatching of nomination papers, and returning officers rejecting PTI candidates’ nomination papers en masse, he while requesting not to be named, said that the whole exercise was to disappoint voters and that it would be a futile exercise to cast one’s vote as things wouldn’t be allowed to go in PTI’s favour.

“The whole situation has been created to send this message that it would be useless to cast a vote,” he said before vowing to resist the alleged plan through his vote. Both the young men’s sentiments as well as the hope of bringing change through their vote are the only silver lining for PTI in the 2024 general elections as voters aged between 18 and 35 make up 45 per cent of a total electorate of nearly 130 million.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), it was reported, that the number of young voters has soared to 56.86 million from 46.43 million in 2018, positioning it to play a crucial role in the making of the new government. Some 23.51 million voters are aged 18-25 years, it read, while 33.34 million voters are aged 26-35.

Seeing the numbers, the experts have repeatedly been saying that the youth can turn the table in many constituencies if they turn out in large numbers on polling day.

Though emotions run high among PTI voters and supporters on the ground and on social media, the track record of young voters suggests that they do not come out to vote.In 2018, it was recently reported, that the national voting turnout was 52% whereas the turnout of voters aged between 18 and 30 years was 37%, marking a significant disparity between young and older voters in terms of ballot cast.

Also, the background discussions with leaders from rival political parties indicate their optimism about the youth demographic, as they assert that not all young voters align with the PTI. Among other things, they believe, PTI workers held violent protests and attacked military installations following Imran’s arrest in a corruption case in May last year, saying it has severely dented PTI’s credibility and changed peoples’ perception.

Given that Imran Khan remains convicted and is unlikely to be released before the polls, there is a hope that voters of all ages will scrutinize party manifestos and evaluate past performances.

The PTI’s rivals believe that traditional approaches, such as providing food and transportation, may not only mobilize voters to the polling stations but also influence their decision-making process.