Pakistan elections: for young people Sharia is better than democracy
by Jibran Khan
A survey conducted among 5,000 Pakistanis aged 18 to 29 delivers such a result. One third of Pakistani voters are under 30 and they will play a decisive role in May's election. Over two thirds state that they are worse off now. The economy, not extremism, is the real concern. Catholic leaders say, "It takes time" to rebuild the country and "trust" in the future.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - For a majority of 5,000 Pakistanis between the ages of 18 and 29, Islamic law and government are better than democracy. More than half of them believe democracy has not been good for the country and 94 per cent said Pakistan was going in the wrong direction, up from 50 per cent in 2007, this according to a report by the British Council, an organisation specialising in international educational and cultural opportunities and development. Speaking about the survey, Catholic leaders in Islamabad said that "it takes time" to rebuild the country, which needs "opportunities" to grow in order to give new confidence and hope to new generations.

Pakistan is going to the polls in May after the National Assembly ended its mandate on 16 March. The outgoing legislature was controlled by the Pakistan People's Party. This marks the first successful democratic transition between two elected governments in a country that has seen many dictatorships and military coups over the decades.

More than 75 per cent of those surveyed for the report said the way the country was governed had worsened since the last election, whilst 58 per cent does not believe that "democracy has been good for Pakistan" in the past years. Almost 70 per cent said they were worse off now than five years ago with rising prices as the greatest concern.

For analysts, the survey results are important because the younger generation will be crucial to the outcome of the upcoming election in May, this, in a country where one third of voters are under 30.

For a majority of them, Sharia and military rule are a better than western-style democracy, a sign that young Pakistanis are "pessimistic" and "disenchanted" after five years of civilian rule.

In fact, about 70 per cent have more faith in the army than any other institution; only 13 per cent trust the government.

Finally, one respondent in four said they had been directly affected by violence, or had witnessed a serious violent event. That figure rises to more than 60 per cent in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

"We respect the voice of the youth. This is the beauty of democracy, which we must accept," the bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi told AsiaNews. However, the "system should provide opportunities" for development "to correct policies," Mgr Rufin Anthony explained. This way, "the whole system will be back on track".

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a former Christian provincial assemblyman, agrees. Citing Pakistan's founder Ali Jinnah, "religion must be kept separate from state affairs".

For this reason, "Democratic forces must stand firm if democracy is to prevail in Pakistan" over authoritarianism. "A democratic government," he noted, "came to power after ten years of dictatorship, and it takes time to remove the mistakes made" during that period.