Mr. Muhammad Zia-Ur-Rehman
(Chief Executive of AWAZ Foundation Pakistan)
YOUTH IN GOVERNANCE
The campaign aimed at improving participation of young people in civic and democratic processes to strengthen rule of law, conflict resolution, social service delivery mechanisms and state-society relation in District Multan. Democratic behaviour is badly lacking in the political environment of Pakistan. This nine month long campaign was launched to highlight and address root-causes, mainly including lack of transparency in the state-led democratic electoral processes, periodic abolishment of constitutional superiority, absence of democratic local governance system and denial of civic rights of the communities. The campaign, despite serious resistance by the state agencies, ensured meaningful engagement of youth (ages between 16-29) and highlighted the need to address lack of policy and capacity on the part of the duty bearers. Raising voice for political reforms and promoting transparent, technology-driven electoral process was one of the key milestones of the initiative.
The overall objective of the campaign was to strengthen citizens’ rights and democratic processes in District Multan. The specific objectives were as follows:
• To develop young people as change agents in the district and enable them to play their active role in country’s mainstream politics, conflict resolution and strengthening rule of law;
– To introduce one of its kind transparent, bio-metric electronic voter identification mechanism and conduct shadow/mock elections for youth-led councils and assemblies;
– To improve accountability of state governing structures through strengthening state-society relation and establishing citizens’-led complaints/feedback mechanisms.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
The campaign mobilized and politically empowered a total of 121,477 Young people (85,246 males, 36,177 females and 54 Transgender), registered them as legal voters and enrolled them for first ever shadow bio-metric election. MOU’s were signed with range of stakeholders, including Election Commission of Pakistan, National Database and Registration Authority, district administration and 34 CBO’s, to get their support in social mobilization and voters’ registration process at community level. A mock election commission and appellate board were set in, 133 youth-led assemblies were established, where 3,150 politically motivated young people were elected as members. These young people were trained in raising voice for their civic rights and rule of law. The project also sensitized 75,600 community members on their civic/democratic rights and trained 60 carefully selected staff members of the Ombudsman office to meet with the expected surge of public complaints against state institutions.
The campaign adopted a holistic approach of resolving underlying causes of lack of rule of law and denial of civic and democratic rights of the public. The project formed mock Youth Assemblies and provided youth with a platform to get engaged in meaningful dialogue with the state. Engaging young people as key actors is itself a very timely approach, as they constitute 60 % of the country’s population. The project, for the first time, used Information Technology for strengthening accountability and presented replicable models of organizing bio-metric elections, budget tracking and public complaints/redressal systems. It also built capacity of range of stakeholders and created a sustainable human capital for such future initiatives.
Despite several challenges, the project was able to account following impact:
– It established community-led accountability prototype and improved knowledge and demand among targeted communities for civic rights and services by 50%
– The public complaints in the Ombudsman office against state institutions increased by 20% in a years’ time
– The bottom up, multi-pronged approach strengthened all key stakeholders, including the communities and the duty bearers. The youth were organized and strengthened as change leaders and a state-society collaborative model was successfully presented as a substitute of existing fragile governing structure
– The government was apparently delaying holding of local bodies’ elections. However, due to successful advocacy under this initiative, the government finally agreed to organize the elections, which was a great success
– It highlighted the importance of biometric electronic voting system to minimize the transparency issues in the electoral proces
Due to its nature, the project faced serious resistance from the state and its agencies. Muhammad Zia-ur-Rehman, the Founder and Chief Executive of AWAZ, who designed and led this campaign, faced serious hardships and threats to his life. On January 08th, 2015, the Police forcefully stopped ongoing voting process in few areas and FIR was registered against the nominee. The Police called shadow youth elections as anti-state activity and a non-bailable offense and put the nominee in jail. The local courts consistently denied hearing of the case; while Police continued physical and mental torture on the nominee in prison. The media, CSOs, including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, GCAP and other AWAZ partners continued raising voice against this state-led barbarism. Finally, after getting no positive response from local courts, a petition was launched in the High Court, who granted the bail on 19 February-2015 and ordered for terminating the case after 8 months of hearing.
– It was learnt that the existing fragile political system does not welcome initiatives which promote transparency, accountability, civic/democratic rights and rule of law. Despite taking all relevant state-authorities on board, the shadow youth councils were declared as anti-state activity which was highly disappointing. An extensive risk assessment should have been carried out by engaging all state / non-state actors before launch of the campaign.
– The use of technology, such as bio-metric electronic voters’ identification devices is useful in ensuring electoral transparency, especially in Pakistan, where manual voter lists generally contain discrepancies and provide a chance to politicians to manipulate results in their favour. The campaign successfully highlighted such transparency issues; however, a rigorous advocacy campaign should be launched by the civil society including NGO’s and media to ensure use of technology in the general / local bodies’ elections.