How campaigners are courting 23.5 million votes
The 23.5 million new voters, registered since 2008, are expected to play a crucial role in the next election.
Young voters, particularly the first-timers, are proactive and their preferences can sway election results.
Aged between 18 and 28 years, this group constitutes a major part of the total 104 million registered voters. Their votes may turn out to be the deciding factor if voter turnout is low in the next election like the 2014 polls (51.37%).
“Bangladesh’s college and university students are very conscious about politics and they are a very strong force for the country,” said Awami League MP Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh.
He said he considered it to be a positive sign for Bangladesh and saw the inclusion of young people on the voter list as a strength of Awami League.
Whichever political party manages to win over young voters, will likely have a huge advantage going to the polls.
Youth-oriented campaign promises
Political parties and candidates are evaluating their existing policy proposals and campaign promises—restructuring them to appeal to young voters.
Certain Barisal City Corporation (BCC) candidates, for example, are focusing on campaign promises intended to improve the lives of youngsters in their area.
Dr Manisha Chakraborty, mayoral candidate for the Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD), is promising to increase employment opportunities, and create library and sports facilities for the socio-cultural, mental, and physical development of the youth.
BNP's mayoral candidate, and former sportsman, Mojibor Rahman Sarwar, is promising young voters the development of sports and body-building facilities in the city.
Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, the Awami League candidate for BCC, is promising young voters to work with them to make the city more youth-friendly, to construct an international-standard stadium, and develop facilities for their cultural potential.
The ruling party is also planning to attract young voters by promoting youth leadership within the party.
Last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina advised her cabinet colleagues to promote youth leadership within Awami League—hinting that more young leaders will be given chances to participate in polls on party tickets.
“We are working to build a prosperous, developed and modern country for the next generation,” said Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahabubul Alam Hanif, hoping that their policies will encourage the young voters to vote for his party.
Youth icons, celebrities, to attract young voters
Awami League sources say the party is hoping Sajeeb Wazed Joy’s image as a young icon and dreamer of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ will help secure the younth vote.
Presidium member Faruq Khan said the party will “gift a lot of development projects” to the new voters. “We will try to create a huge number of job opportunities for them too,” he added.
Party sources also said that they are planning to involve public figures in its campaign; including several popular cricketers, singers, and actors.
Young Bangla, a platform working with the youth since 2014 – comprising an active membership of 100,000 youngsters – will also be a part of the party’s campaign.
Effectiveness of the strategies
While talking to the Dhaka Tribune, many young voters said that using younger leaders, focusing on further economic growth and digitalization, and promoting youth-friendly policies may in fact help politicians win them over.
“Although older leaders have more experience, I would rather vote for someone younger with more progressive and liberal values—and someone in whom I see my own image,” said Rezwan Reza Khan, a student of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at North South University.
Another young voter, Labiba Faiaz Bari, a student of international relations at Dhaka University, said: “As our country is about to move out of the LDC category within the next few years, I will definitely cast my vote for that very particular political party or leadership which can lead this development to sustainable progress.”
However, political experts and leaders are of the opinion that guaranteeing safe and secure polling centers will ultimately decide how many of the young voters actually cast their ballots.
“Fear of violence will discourage youngsters from going to vote on polling day,” said Chairman of Nationalist Democratic Movement (NDM) Bobby Hajjaj, explaining that youngsters do not want to get beaten up by goons for trying to exercise their franchise.