By Joanne Chraim
Cover picture from Education Next
“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow” said the one and only Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the role of youth has always been at the heart of revolutions and systematic changes. For instance, in the Arab Spring, a group of educated and devoted young people who got introduced to foreign and innovative ideas in order to realize social and political rehabilitation. This was also witnessed in Lebanon in the October 17th protests which have been a benchmark for youth activism and involvement in the political activity. However, the previous experience with our ruling class that has undermined its youths’ abilities and has exhausted its treasure – its youth; by limiting their life opportunities, forcing them to abandon their country, and unleashing the third biggest explosion in history – Beirut Port’s Explosion. This puts the fate and the role of the future generation at question. As the parliamentary elections of 2022 are approaching, our hope for a change and for political reformation is rising, thus, the youth’s role is critical for this change to happen.
As Lebanon dives deeper into its various crises, many believe that the youth are the source of light which is present at the end of the tunnel. Lebanese people have high expectations towards the upcoming elections because new parties are running against the traditional sectarian ones. Thus, it’s promising for them to have higher chance to win in comparison to the past years. Even though the past elections had had positive results such as high women candidacy, we still have a long way to walk to reach an adequate and democratic election process. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, youth participation by both voting and candidacy was 29.8% of total voters who ranged between ages 21-34 and the average age of elected MPs was 58. These numbers do not only imply youth misrepresentation but it also points out the electoral process flaws which falls far behind democratic principles.
The low rate of participation can be explained by several factors which affect youth on different levels. Political leaders are classified into two different narratives. The first one targets the highly skilled and educated young people who are trusted individuals to represent Lebanon’s abroad and attract foreign countries to its capital. This segment of youth can play an important role in the upcoming elections because they give hope for political change and make a difference in the results’ elections. The other narrative stigmatizes the poorly skilled and uneducated young people who are viewed by political parties as a subversive target. Political parties control their vote and take it for granted by offering them viable employment and social service benefits. Indeed, this category of people represents the working class who are victims of severe social inequalities. Politicians make them vulnerable to services to urge them to vote for them in the elections.
Another important determinant for youth involvement in the elections is the public policy which has long undermined the youth. The electoral law could be a substantial channel for political reform but its components are still restraint for youth participation. Even though every citizen who is above the age of 18 is eligible to exercise all his/her civil rights. Every citizen at this age is subjected to justice and punishment. Moreover, young people who are below the age of 21 aren’t allowed to undertake the voting process. A study was conducted on the Lebanese Youth about Politics and Sectarianism showed people’s opinion when asked whether they were with or against decreasing the age limit for voting. The result showed 77.5% who were with the decreasing of the age limit. In fact, the exclusion of people who were under 21 was quite controversial. Taking into consideration, the younger generation, especially fresh graduates, was the most affected section by the situation. Thus, they should be eligible for proper representation. Unfortunately, young students are forced to leave the country to pursue their education or to find job opportunities with respect to their potentials because the country is not providing them with such opportunities. This conflict is seen as an opportunity for keen youth to make a difference and a positive reformation in the election’s results.
Finally, the main reason behind each person’s decision is their own conviction and sense of civic responsibility. The way young people apply their civic duties such as voting, differs from one person to another. Due to the lack of political awareness and citizenship education, young people are disregarding the sense of civic duty and overlooking their rights as citizens. Moreover, one common idea is witnessed among the Lebanese community which is the Lebanese civil war stigma which is a result of the painful and destructive consequences of the war back in 1975-1990. It is called the “post-war trauma” that has created the false image of politics in conflict with war. It was transmitted to the younger generation through their parents who have witnessed the war and created political stereotypes accordingly. It has resulted in the elimination of political discussion within families and schools. It has excluded the youth from any form of political involvement. Another common behavior in voting is the concept of “self-helplessness”. According to the clinical psychologist Ms. Mia Atwi, the state of mind refers to a stage reached by the person who feels the sense of hopelessness in creating change in a certain situation. 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. For instance, the practical changes and reforms that the October 2019 revolution has promised but failed to fulfill. Later, it followed by a devastating explosion that has 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 and a clear strategy. Still, change must start at some point and the elections day is our first step. Therefore, all young people should know that voting is not an obligation, it is not a paid service by politician, voting is their own right. It is their right to be represented, to get proper education, to get opportunities, to promote their talents and to live a safe and healthy life with their families and beloved ones. Let them hope for change, work for it in the upcoming elections, and let their vote represent their dreams!
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