Youth Political Participation: Does Reality Live up to Ambition?
Campaign signs on partisan elections, slogans advocating for women and youth inclusion, and promises for the citizens voice to be heard. The streets were full of flyers on my way to work today, and I’m writing this blog in expression of the questions I have had in mind on present and future challenges and how the youth can reach for a solution!
When the Generation 01 team met to discuss the topic of youth participation in community and politics, we shared our concerns and posed our questions, which all fell under the same line of queries; The new Political Parties Law, what will it offer? Are we really heading towards a political reform? How long will the frustration with the performance of successive parliaments and governments last? Do we have enough political awareness to choose a party? How can universities be mind-makers and not only destinations for studies and degrees?
Many questions I had the pleasure to pose on the political press activist, Mr. Mazeed Abdulmouti; News Editor-in-Chief at the Radio and Television Corporation; Broadcaster; and Presenter of the Open Meeting Program for Political and Parliamentary Affairs.
Why is it important for youth to participate in the political process?
If you take a broader look at the situation of most youth in Jordan in terms of political participation, you are most likely to find one of the following scenarios:
– Intentional reluctance from political action
– Persistent frustration with the results achieved
– Selection influenced by external factors
– Ignorance of the importance and role of politics in our lives.
I do not wish to sound negative, however, the figures confirm these scenarios, as 45.9% of youth had no intention of participating in 2020 parliament elections, according to Rased1. Yet, the question remains, why do we seek to increase the percentage of youth participation in political action?
Mazeed said in that context: “At first, let us establish the concept of politics being an essential part of life; even in our relationships and personal matters, we are intertwined and connected with the surroundings. Therefore, political reform comes at the top of the pyramid. When you have a political role, you will be able to carry out reforms in education, health, economy, and social fields.
Youths are the most active and energetic age group, in terms of interacting with the cause and solving issues. On the other hand, this group is the most vulnerable to problems that spread internally and externally, such as crime, drugs, extremism, and terrorism.
Therefore, targeting young people and increasing their political awareness, and then opening the doors for them to participate politically, means building a sound, healthy, and civilized society that adopts continuous reform thinking, and keeps away from deviation.”
Universities as an environment to nurture thinking minds
During my years of education in school and college, political participation was not of much interest to any of my teachers. That is why I believe we should put more effort in qualifying the educational cadres, so that the teacher and professor become more aware, and point this topic out to young students in a positive way. Likewise, targeted curricula should be provided to refine students’ personalities in a unique way.
Mazed added: “Raising political awareness should start before the age of 18. We must begin to form the criteria for proper selection among individuals from childhood. We should conduct development programs whose cost may be high today but will avoid us paying larger bills in the future.”
Regarding the university electoral experience, he indicated: “University elections are important; an experience that contributes to political development and raising awareness among young people. Universities must be viewed as ‘the brain of the state’ in the scientific and behavioural development of youth. Our universities should produce national personalities and influential community leaders organized in various directions, presenting partisan discourse and forward-looking visions for Jordan.”
In my opinion, one of the most significant approaches to create community leaders and influential personalities is working on political awareness. It is true that systematic national programs are a necessity, however, in light of their absence or limitations, the responsibility fall on us, as young people, to look for resources that would help us shape this awareness in order to contribute to the change that we aspire.
In an attempt to expand my knowledge of available programs and resources, I searched more on the Internet and spoke with my colleagues at Generation 01. One of the team members, Bushra Jalabneh, participated in Rased program, through which she got acquainted with the new electoral law, political parties, how they are formed, how they are elected, and more.
Moreover, several programs are implemented within universities by civil society organizations. For instance, “Ana Usharek” program, that was implemented in 13 Jordanian universities, aimed to enhance the capacities of young people and their knowledge of the basic principles of the democratic process, via interactive training and dialogue sessions; the program extended to focus on advocacy skills in its second phase, “Ana Usharek +”2.
Yet, let us assume we did form a strong political awareness, how would we handle the frequent frustration with the performance of successive parliament members and governments? Is performance deficiency the fault of the people for not choosing the right persons? Is it a result of limitations at which the powers available to parliament stands? Or is it a lack of awareness from our side of the role of parliament in general?
Old concerns and new laws
Frustration have prevailed with the succession of parliaments and governments that have not met our aspirations or demands as young people, especially as regards reducing the unemployment rate, improving education, and keeping pace with the requirements of the labor market and new economic trends.
Furthermore, we are still not accustomed to the idea of joining a party, as it is a major source of concern to us. With the new election and political parties laws, we still need some time to comprehend the idea and take it seriously.
Following this train of thought, I asked my guest how we can overcome the frustration and participate in the political scene, whether by election or party affiliation.
“Throughout the past years, the parliamentary performance was individualistic. There were no systematic programs, and by that, choosing a member was based on individual demands, interest, and nepotism. ‘This parliament member can provide a certain service so I will elect him.’ The 130 deputies in each house were dealt with individually! Consequently, this individual experience did not work out, but that is no reason to stop, rather transform this failure into a motivation.”
He also added: “With the new election law, parliament members will not be addressed individually, but as groups, according to specific and unified programs. This new experience will have a greater impact on the power of the state and the interest of the citizens, as parties will be more capable of achieving public services, and more effective in accountability and limiting corruption. Young people should be aware that this new path addresses the problems we have been going through.
Whoever will represent the government is the party that will win the largest number of parliament members, or the largest group formed of two or three parties, and the citizens will determine which party via election. In my opinion, the current political reform is an opportunity for all of us, individuals, and institutions.”
According to a study conducted by Rased, more than 50% of the youth don’t take into consideration the party affiliation of the candidates when voting. Paradoxically, 39% believe that their clan affiliation negatively affects their voting3 behavior. What does that entail? We need to have groups to represent us, rather than individuals with national or religious slogans or specific family names.
The percentage of young people who study the party affiliation of candidates now will naturally increase, as 20% of the general assembly of any party is reserved for young people4. We will be searching for a party program that reflects our demands; Some parties will focus on the economic, educational, or health aspects; We will choose the program that we see as priority, and accordingly, will choose the party that represents this program.
With time, we might choose to join these parties, or form new ones that would achieve the changes we aspire for our country and society. Regarding this idea, Mazeed suggests that political parties should contain different age groups, and “the party should not be consisting of youth only”, in order to benefit from the experiences of those who preceded us and look at them as learned lessons that we do not repeat in our journey towards political participation.
Do we have any other choice than experimenting?
It is easier said than done, we still need support, specifically cognitive, in order to move from the phase of frustration to participation. However, we learn from experience which demonstrates whether the political participation will have a good outcome or not, especially since reluctance to participate may result in the election of those who are incompetent.
Nowadays, with the presence of social media, we could search, spread, find support, and even promote election campaigns if we thought of running or supporting candidates. If we want our voice to be heard, and to make a change at various levels, our political participation is the key.
I’ll conclude with the words of my guest: “We have a strong legal structure, all that remains is the execution. The first experience may have some errors, but there will be modification and correction on all aspects, even on the individual side and our choices of parties. I think the experience will be a wake-up call for many.”
Image: Doaa Imad in an interview with Mazeed Abdulmouti, a journalist specializing in political and parliamentary affairs.
This blog highlights the ideas of Doaa Imad after an interview with Mazeed Abdulmouti, one of the most prominent specialists in the field of political and parliamentary media, as part of the Generation 01 program implemented by the Generations for Peace organization, with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.