“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow” said no one but the only Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the role of youth has always been at the heart of revolutions and systematic changes, as we have seen in the Arab Spring, when a group of educated and devoted young people met with foreign and innovative ideas to realize social and political rehabilitation. This was also witnessed in Lebanon in the October 17th protests, which has been a benchmark for youth activism and involvement in the political activity. However, the previous experience with our ruling class, one that has undermined its youth’ abilities, and has exhausted its treasure which is its youth, by limiting their opportunities, forcing them to leave their country, and even killing many of them in one of the biggest explosions in history, puts the fate and the role of the future generation at question. As the upcoming parliamentary elections of 2022 approach, our hope for change and political reforms arises and the role young people as leaders of this change is critical.
As Lebanon dives deeper into its various crises, many believe that the light at the end of tunnel, is clearly the youth. Many Lebanese have high expectations on the upcoming elections, where it is promising that the new opposing parties running against the traditional sectarian ones, have higher chances in succeeding compared to the previous years. While the latest elections had some new positive aspects such as a high women candidacy compared to previous years, we are still a long way from an adequate and democratic election process. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, when it comes to youth participation both by voting and candidacy, only 29.8% of total voters ranged between the age of 21-34 and the average age of elected MPs was 58. These numbers do not only imply youth misrepresentation, but it also points out that the electoral process is flawed and falls far behind democratic principles.
The low rate of participation can be explained by several factors affecting youth on different levels. Political leaders have two different narratives when classifying the youth. The first one looks at the highly skilled and educated young people as an important tool to represent Lebanon’s name abroad and attract foreign capital. This division of youth can play an important role in the upcoming elections, as they represent the hope for making a difference in the elections results and implementing political change. The other narrative stigmatizes the poorly skilled and uneducated young people, which political parties view as a subversive target whose vote they can buy, by offering them viable employment or social services benefits. Indeed, this category of people represents the lower class, victim of more severe social inequalities, making them more vulnerable to services offered by politicians in return to their vote.
Another important determinant for youth involvement in the elections is the public policy which has long undermined the youth. While the electoral law could be a substantial channel for political reform, many of its components are still a restraint for youth participation. Even though every citizen above the age of 18 exercises all their civil rights and is subject to justice as any citizen, young people below the age of 21 are deprived of their voting right. A study conducted on Lebanese Youth on Politics and Sectarianism showed that when asked whether they are with or against decreasing the voting age, 77.5% were with this modification. In fact, the exclusion of people under 21 is quite controversial regarding the fact that the young generation, especially the one graduating, is the most affected by the situation, which makes it even more eligible for proper representation: young students are forced to leave the country to pursue their education or to find opportunities to work that affiliate with their potential, which was not provided for them in their own country. This might also be seen as an opportunity to make difference in the election results, by making way for the younger generation that is the keenest to change and reforms.
Finally, the main reason behind each person’s decision is their own conviction and sense of civic responsibility. The way young people view their civic duties including voting, differs from one person to another. Many young people disregard the sense of civic duty and overlook their rights as citizens. This is due to the lack of political awareness and citizenship education that should be taught in schools. Moreover, one common idea witnessed among the Lebanese community is the Lebanese civil war stigma, which is a result of the painful and destructive consequences of the war. The so called “post-war trauma” created a false image which associates politics to conflict and war, which was transmitted to the younger generation by the older one who has witnessed the war. This resulted in the creation of a “political taboo” which eliminated the concept of political discussion within families or schools and excluded the youth from any form of political involvement. Another common behavior when reflecting into voting is the concept of “self-helplessness”. According to clinical psychologist Ms. Mia Atwi, it refers to a state of mind reached when a person feels hopeless in creating change. A person refuses to vote insisting that “their vote will not make a change”. This feeling has undeniably intensified in consequence to all the previous events the country has been through, especially to the practical changes and reforms that the October 2019 revolution has promised and failed to fulfill, later followed by a devastating explosion that destroyed our capital, without prevailing justice.
To conclude, voting is not the ultimate way for change. Change comes at a price of a series of efforts, a clear strategy and implementation of reforms. Still, change must start at some point, and elections day is our starting point. Therefore, to all the young people, voting is not an obligation, voting is not the price of a service a politician pays, voting is your right. It is your right to be represented, your right for proper education, your right to get opportunities and promote your talents, your right to live a safe and healthy life with your family and loved ones. Let us hope for change, and work for it in the upcoming elections, and let our vote represent our dreams!
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