Nurturing the voters

2016-02-27T23:09:51+05:00 Rana Saifullah

Electoral incongruities in Pakistan have been criticized by various factions and specially the political parties but seldom, the political scientists and think tanks thought of nurturing the voters with basic democratic values and rarely taking initiatives to increase and ensure the participation of youth in electoral and democratic procedures and to make them an active part of the democracy.

One such initiative to groom the voters and future parliamentarians had been taken by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) in 2007, as Youth Parliament Pakistan (YPP), which was well conceived and currently running its 7th session successfully. The visionary leadership of the YPP has made this initiative unique of its kind with its special programmes and sessional activities. One such programme is a study visit to UK Houses of Parliament and Danish Parliament, Copenhagen.

Being a part of the YPP as the Leader of the House it has been my privilege for being a part of the study visit and analyse the democratic structure and parliamentary dynamics of the world’s strongest democracies. What inspired me the most was the training and schooling of children and youngsters for a democratic process right from their early age. First of all their youth parliament only comprised teenage parliamentarians and it is at this tender age, they are nurtured for parliamentary activities and indoctrinated with the imperatives of their national parliamentary system.

In the heart of London Victoria Garden, the state of the art Parliamentary Education Centre is serving the British youth with an objective to impart the parliamentary and democratic trainings and learning among young generation about the historical evolution of Britain to its current status of a constitutional monarchy. The education center is an initiative of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) to enlighten and broaden the horizon of British youth about its political and royal history as well as the parliamentary setup. It is the compulsory and mandatory part of education for British youth. Hence, nurturing the future parliamentarians and lords in its true spirit.

The education centre is furnished with Themed rooms, augmented reality and Immersive “Discovery” Space. Each of the learning spaces has a theme which is intended to add to the exciting experience of visiting the Education Centre. Four of the learning spaces are themed, respectively, Commons, Lords, Monarchy, and My Parliament. The Commons, Lords and Monarchy rooms each contain augmented reality experiences. In the Commons, Sir Winston Churchill introduces young people to the Chamber; in the Lords, students can explore a 3D model of the chamber; and, in the Monarchy room, portraits of Queen Victoria and King Charles I come to life and talk about their relationship with Parliament. To make learning experience more interesting and exciting for young minds, the Immersive discovery space offers a sensory, interactive room that plunges students into an immersive environment via the use of 360° projection technology. The entire experience included 15 minute virtual tour through Parliament and democracy’s history, virtual recreations of the House of Commons and House of Lords chambers and recreations of an historical event connected to each Chamber: the 1908 suffragettes protest in the House of Commons, and an attempt to gain access to the House of Lords chamber in 1739 by the Duchess of Queensbury.

This enriching and state of the art facility for the youth, resultantly, is now serving more than 45,000 to 100,000 young people visiting with their schools. Imagine each year if this many Pakistani students could learn about Pakistan’s political evolution and democratic process at an early stage along with the analyses of socio-economic turbulence due to interrupted civilian governments and the lessons from civil-military relations. They would definitely strengthen democratic process and comprehend better the dynamics of Pakistan’s democracy.

Similarly, the Danish system had evolved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Only the ceremonial powers are vested upon the monarch whereas parliament or Folketing (as called by Danes) possesses the legislative and constitutional powers. The Danish government has also taken a few initiatives amongst which the most significant one is conducting school elections. Students plan and run their digital campaigns on social media and participate in political debates in schools. Denmark has the highest quality of democracy in the world as stated by new democracy barometer. The barometer compares thirty well-established democracies on nine points: the protection of personal freedom; the rule of law; an active citizenship; a system of checks and balances; transparency; political representation; participation; competition and the ability to implement democratic decisions.

The International Civic and Citizenship education Study (ICCS) has mapped the democratic understanding among more than 140,000 students in 38 countries. The survey shows that Danish students are superior in terms of democratic thinking and citizenship. It also shows that students in Denmark experience an open and anti-authoritarian learning environment where they can comfortably express their opinions. The question arises how? Senior fellow at Danish School of Education, Jens Bruun, answers it by stating that the critical thinking dimension in Danish education is very important for democracy. By encouraging young people to relate critically to society, they essentially learn to take responsibility for their own rights and duties in society. In this way, schools practice democracy in the actual process of teaching. Danish schools are considered as the cradle for democracy.

Analyzing the democratic and electoral dynamics of the two robust parliamentary systems of the world, the essence of their success and the fragility of Pakistan’s democratic dynamics lies in the education for youth. Nothing beats democracy. There are many ways to develop a democratic society and culture, but youth has to play a key role in the developing, mainstaining and strengthening democracy. The youth is not the future – they are the present. That is why the visit to UK-Denmark by the youth parliamentarians is so important. We get exposure to the British and Danish society, their democracy, and values. We are inspired, we are challenged and this way, we learn.

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