New voters, leaders with fresh ideas  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: January 07, 2019 22:04:09


Of the main features characterising the December 30 National Election Day, one drew the attention of many inquisitive people. It was a unique spectacle: first-time voters jubilantly flaunting their vote-casting ink marks on thumbs to each other. Print and electronic media has not missed the chance of recording the spectacle. Attaining the age of exercising franchise is a continuing process. During the country's national and local government elections, a sizeable number of youths reach their voting age. The factor goes largely unnoticed or considered business-as-usual. Thanks to their enthusiasm for the December 30 polls, first-time voters in the election turned out to be a phenomenon. Newly adult young men and women came to the polling booths in droves to cast their votes. The scenario was something extraordinary. Maybe, the candidates' electoral promises and the mood of suspense around the polls had prompted many youths to rush to the vote centres. According to various data, first-time voters in record numbers cast their votes in the election. If memory doesn't betray, many elderly people can today remember similar scenarios of themselves casting votes in the historic 1970 election as first-time voters.

Young voters comprise a great segment in elections around the world. They have been seen making a difference in poll results in many a country. Spanning from the USA, Britain and France to the South Asian and African countries, in almost all democratic set-ups young voters play a vital role in the nations' political evolutions. At the same time, the increasing interest of youths in vote leads to the emergence of younger leaders in many countries. Despite their being branded as politically apathetic and compulsively drawn to the digital wizardry, lately many of them are found being oriented towards politics. In South Asia, including Bangladesh and India, youths have long been taking much interest in domestic politics and elections. Lately, it has become a global phenomenon. Becoming the Chancellor of a country like Austria at the age of 32 would be viewed as wild thought in the past. With Sebastian Kurz becoming the country's new Chancellor, the event now turns out to be bereft of surprises. Same are the cases with New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Arden, 37, or the 38-year-old Irish Premier Leo Varadkar. One would like to insert here the name of Emmanuel Macron, who was 39 when he became the President of France. All of them appear to be carrying the legacy of John F. Kennedy. He became the US President at the age of 44 in 1961. In comparison, President Donald Trump was 70 when he assumed office in 2017.

Young heads of state and government once dominated the political landscapes of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. But the adamant presence of elderly statesmen, like Robert Mugabe, brought about aberrant and unwarranted developments in some of these country's political theatres. Not long ago, fierce armed battles between army factions loyal to a president-elect and that loyal to the electorally defeated leader emerged as a sorry commentary on politics and election culture in that African country. Political analysts dismiss these anarchic situations as isolated events. They indeed are. Or else, the scenes of post-election jubilations by youths in many other Sub-Saharan African countries could not have flooded the audio-visual media.

The presence of youths at polling booths in most of the highly developed countries offers varied pictures. While the politically conscious youths in France, UK or Canada comprise a common spectacle, the US shows the mixed presence of elderly and young voters. The US scenario is quite different from others. The political landscape of this large nation has recently witnessed a sharp division between two camps. Like the adult voters, the youths also appear to be tilted towards their respective ideological camps. This was seen in the almost equal support for both Hillary Clinton, the presidential hopeful, and the elected President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Although the younger voters backing Hillary apparently held sway over the cliffhanger presidential election, lots of first-time voters threw their weight behind President Trump. The relatively senior young voters included lots of human rights activists. They were not averse to the arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers in the US. But according to political analysts, the rhetoric and bellicosity of Donald Trump had greatly influenced the first or second-time voters.

According to overseas political observers, it is only natural that young or first-time voters will rally round the leaders who uphold their views on many national issues. Ideology plays a vital role here with it representing many shades of political beliefs. They could be progressive, generally viewed as left, or rightist or conservative thoughts. The now-beleaguered French President Emmanuel Macron won a thumping victory in election in 2017, at the age of 39. He received the voters' mandate on his liberal policy. Macron defeated his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, whose policies are not always in conformity with the radical views upheld by the younger voters. The present turbulence in France is said to have its root in the 1789 French Revolution. During his election campaigns, President Macron had generously drawn on the egalitarian and democratic values of the revolution. It has been seen universally that unconventional ideas championed by leaders strike a chord with the emotion-charged youths. It was seen in the election-victory of Argentina's President Mauricio Marci in 2015. Since his assumption of office, Marci has enforced a number of unique types of revolutionary austerity steps. As part of his belt-tightening measures, he cut back on government subsidies, froze salaries and prohibited government officials from using private cars. To what extent today's consumerist youths would bear with these steps is anybody's guess. In Bangladesh, except those belonging to the socially detached upper class, educated youths in general have lately been seen taking interest in national politics. The number of rights-conscious and politically aware younger generations is on the sharp rise globally.       

That the youth population makes a difference in today's parliamentary and presidential election results has emerged as a common phenomenon. The trend has gained considerable strength in Bangladesh. Analysts ascribe this prominence of youths to their love for fresh socio-political, economic and tech-friendly programmes.

shihabskr@ymail.com     

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