The newly formed Druk Mitsher Nazhoen Tshogpa (DMNT), a youth political organization with the main agenda of lobbying for youth employment with political parties has garnered a mixture of reactions but has managed to get everyone’s attention.
This is mainly because in 2013 around 30 percent of the voters will be between the ages of 18 to 25 representing the youth vote. If the definition of youth is expanded from 18 to 30 then the overall youth vote could be 50% or more of the voting demographic.
So who are these young voters?
Political parties, candidates and political pundits apart from recognizing the numbers have not yet been able to explore this big demography of voters which could very well determine the 2013 outcome.
Given the success of Bhutan’s mass education system and also rapid development in the last few decades these young voters are mainly educated, aware and of a modern generation. Of around the 80,000 facebook users in Bhutan this young population from the 18 to early 30’s forms the bulk of the users meaning that they are at the forefront of Bhutan’s social media revolution.
Looking at the recent trends in the social media from the Tobacco Act Amendment to expressing concerns on corruption and nepotism there is a visible youth ‘angst.’
However, before parties can start counting their votes a significant portion of the youth online is not engaged in the political process, don’t read newspapers and are more interested in the latest fashion and entertainment trends. Also in the 2008 Elections the youth participation was comparatively lower than other demographic groups due to various factors.
Even with the above reality the youth vote will still make a significant dent for or against any party in the election process.
Political parties are yet to develop strong youth wings. Assigning the posts to young relatives of party leaders will not do as the youth wings have to become grounds to not only select youth leaders but also groom future leaders. If the right leaders are put in place these youth wings will have a tremendous potential like the infant DMNT to pull in a large number of supporters.
A significant chunk of these voters can be found living out their lives in apartments in urban areas and form the majority of the rural – urban migration.
These youth in the urban areas are here mainly looking for employment. At the same time a large portion of the ‘older youth’ who would also be in the same mainly urban settings would be employed and budding professionals.
For the unemployed youth and those just in college the biggest issue as visible in DMNT’s campaign is employment. The swift reaction of more than a 1,000 or so members joining DMNT shows the potent nature of this issue and also the ability of the youth to organize given the right opportunity.
For the more older and mature youth already with jobs their pertinent issue would be the scope for progress and also their future.
However, for both these main sections of the youth vote, the current economic climate will be a great dampener on their ambitions with the biggest employer, the private sector not hiring much and another big employer the government cutting down its expenses.
As a thumb rule youth anywhere in the world are highly idealistic and still not cynical or co-opted by the system and so react more strongly to injustices in society. The Bhutanese youth are no different.
A major issue that youth in Bhutan feels strongly about is corruption and nepotism. The biggest nightmare and in some ways a sad reality for the youth is applying for a job to only find it go to a pre-selected or ‘connected candidate’.
The current ruling partly will be okay as long as the youth see unemployment and corruption as separate issues, but if these issues are linked to the policies of the current government then votes could go against them.
Given their large numbers and relatively simple demands, the Bhutanese political system should learn how to constructively engage its youth voters. Over-reacting or driving them underground instead of helping and guiding them in the right direction will backfire in the long term.
So far this government’s strategy on dealing with this large youth demographic is virtually non-existent.
For example, graduates fresh out of college coming to the National Graduates Orientation Program to be inspired by their political leaders instead found the Prime Minister and his ministers defending themselves against a list of corruption allegations and also throwing political dirt at others.
Top sections of the government are still mainly dominated by the older generation and as a result the resultant old ideas and experiences are unable to fully cope with new challenges.