More than half of young Pakistanis believe democracy has not been good for their country and nearly 40 percent are in favor of having Islamic sharia rule, according to a survey published Wednesday.
Pakistan goes to the polls in a historic general election on May 11, but the report by the British Council found deep pessimism about the political system among voters aged 18 to 29.
An overwhelming 96 percent of those surveyed in the “Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box” report said the country was heading in the wrong direction and almost a third said they would prefer military rule to democracy.
Just 29 percent chose democracy as the best system for Pakistan, a constitutional Islamic republic, with 38 percent favoring sharia, saying it was the best for giving rights and freedom and promoting tolerance.
But the report noted that none of those surveyed had any direct experience of living under a non-democratic system of Islamic government and some had “elevated views” of what such a setup could achieve.
“As a Muslim, I believe in Khalifa rule. Democracy is like giving your country and faith to America,” one respondent, Muhammad Usama, was quoted as saying.
A study commissioned for the report estimated there are more than 25 million registered voters aged 18 to 29 in Pakistan, or slightly more than 30 percent of the electorate.
The coalition government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) ended on March 16, paving the way for the country’s first democratic transition of power.
Analysts have hailed the event as an important milestone in Pakistan’s short but turbulent history, which has seen three periods of military rule. However, the PPP has been dogged throughout by allegations of corruption and incompetence.
Pakistan suffers crippling power shortages and gun and bomb attacks by Taliban and other militants are a near-daily scourge.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed for the report said the way the country was governed had worsened since the last election, while 58 percent disagreed with the statement “democracy has been good for Pakistan” in the past four years.
There was some support for a return to military rule, the most recent bout of which ended in 2008 when the PPP took power after nine years under General Pervez Musharraf, and the survey found high levels of support for the armed forces.
“Pakistan was developing and progressing well during the dictatorship. Now there is no electricity, no gas, no water and most important of all there is no law in this country,” student Waqas Razzaq, from Rawalpindi, told the survey.
Despite Islamist and sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the survey found inflation and unemployment were young people’s biggest concerns.
Only 10 percent of those surveyed rated terrorism as the most important issue facing the country.
The report was based on four commissioned studies, an online consultation and 5,271 in person interviews with people aged 18 to 29 around Pakistan, with a stated margin of error of less than 1.5 percent.
Strong youth support for Shariah in Pakistan