By Fares Braizat, Jan 24,2022

While we celebrate successful Jordanian youth entrepreneurs, like Zeid Y. Al Husban and Sahar Barqawi, a substantial segment of our youth is still facing multiple layers of alienation and exclusion from public as well as social life. The alienated youth, just like their successful peers, seek an opportunity for more active inclusion in the economy and the political process. Moreover, their alienation is not the only serious problem we should be addressing in the political reform efforts under way. There are other important issues. 

An equally important and related issue is the mass exodus, across all age groups, out of the electoral process. Empirical evidence from the 2016 and 2020 parliamentary elections demonstrates that the older a voter is, the more likely he/she is to abandon the electoral process. This mass departure causes structural deficiencies ranging from institutional imperfections to dysfunctional representation of socio-economic interests. Furthermore, such distortions often lead to unhealthy polarization over dominance of competing narratives; one outside the electoral process, often tinted with apathy, and one, inside it, overwhelmed with frustration with parliament performance and dissatisfaction with outcomes that go beyond parliament. 

Here is the empirical set of evidence. With the exception of the age group 17-25, who had a higher voter turnout in 2020, namely 38.2 percent, than in the 2016 elections (37.4 percent), participation rates of all older age groups declined by an average of: -5.5 percent for 26-30 years old; -7.1 percent for 31-40 years old; -8.8 percent for 41-50 years old; -9.5 percent for 51-60 years old; and -12.1 percent for 60 + years old. This means that the national decline average from the 2016 to the 2020 parliamentary elections stood at -6.2 percent. These rates were recorded notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19, which was the cause for abstention of roughly 325,293 voters, according to a post elections survey by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. 

The number of actual voters in the 2020 elections was 1,387,711 out of 4,640,643 eligible voters. This means 3,252,932 did not vote for various reasons. Those who cited COVID-19 as a reason for not voting were 10 percent of the non-voters. When added to the actual voters, the figure comes to 1,713,004, which 36.9 percent of eligible voters. The increase over the 2016 voting rate would be 0.8 percent, which comes from the increase in the number of voters in the age group 17–25. 

The absence of youth from the electoral process is a very important issue. Although the 17–25 years old were the highest participating group in the 2020 elections, at 38.2 percent, the participations rate of the next age group, 26–30, declines significantly to 25.1 percent, i.e., a decline of 13.1 percentage points. This decline is double that of the 2016 elections when these two age groups recorded 37.4 percent and 30.6 percent participation rates, respectively. 

This is a clear sign that the excitement of first-time voters quickly fades away, at an alarmingly high rate as well, and that is attributed partially to the Parliament’s inability to maintain their confidence, let alone the fact that the only social groups that do accept them – those associated with universities and local neighborhoods – celebrate electoral boycott. 

The other significant issue is young female participation. Females in the 17–25-year-old age group are less likely to participate than males by some -10.5 percent, -6.3 percent for the 26–30 age group, -4.4 percent for 31–40 age groups, -5.8 percent for 41-50 age group, -7.8 percent for 51–60 age group, and -12.4 percent for the 60+ age group. Overall, women are less likely to vote by -8.0 percent nationally.

The issues we must address are: (a) a substantial portion of youth is migrating out of the political system; (b) youth integration in the economic system has been insufficient; and (c) they continue to be socially alienated, bullied at times, suppressed at others, and ignored.

The implications are severe, and range from widening the breeding ground for all sorts of radicalization, to indifference to public affairs, and possible withdrawal from ordinary life to other manner of living, with all the ills of such pathways. It is important to assert that those who choose alienation are not necessarily making a choice, but are most likely being pushed to do so since the economic system is not being responsive enough to their needs, thus leading to withdrawal and alienation.

While surgical economic interventions to expand the private sector to accommodate the demand on jobs cannot wait any longer, we ought to design pathways for alienated youth to feel a “sense of ownership” in the political system. Reducing the candidacy age for parliamentary elections from 30 to 25 is a small progressive step, given the severity of youth absence from the electoral process, but we should work to reduce it to 18, with serious incentives, especially for young women, to engage politically, and that includes offering financial incentives in the form of reducing candidacy fees and required bonds. Since they are not too young to vote, carry weapons, have a family, guard the borders, drive cars, pilot planes, they are certainly not too young to run for elections when they are 18.

The writer is the Chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E. Dr. Fares Braizat. 

This article was originally published in Jordan News on January 24, 2022. For the original article source, click here

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