The recent admonition from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) advising political parties to keep away from school and institutes to meet students has left many wondering the rationale behind the move and whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks as are purported to be.
While the Commission has maintained that a large number of parties and candidates could lead to ‘undue politicization’ in schools, some argue that it’s just unnecessary apprehension. Few can’t help asking why it was a concern for the education ministry when political parties visiting schools and institutions help in educating the students on politics and democracy. Students stand to benefit more interacting directly with the parties.
However, this has indubitably raised question of our misconception about politics. We still view politics as it’s happening in some neighboring countries as dirty, corrupt and debauched, and thus draw a parallel perception. We fear that politicking in schools would be counterproductive and that it would plant poison in young minds.
The reasons behind barring political parties into school are understandable, but what about those students who are in colleges and tertiary institutes and are above 18 years and eligible to vote? The fact that the majority of our voters comprise the youth would mean depriving them of the electoral education that allows them to make informed choices.
Around the world, many premier institutes are political in nature. Political parties visit colleges and universities and some even host prominent politicians for talks and discussion. Rather than politicizing, such programs make eligible voters more abreast and prepare them to make their own decisions.
To put it simply, eligible voters in schools and institutes have the right to have access to the right information about parties. This will only help them make informed decisions. What use would it really be even if eligible young voters go and vote if they don’t have a sound electoral education? Though the Commission might have covered schools under its voters’ education and information program, what about awareness of the electoral education on parties, candidates, and what it stands for. Political parties are still engrossed in the task of making itself and its candidates known to the electorates. So our young voters must know about political parties well enough if we want them to vote.
Maybe we also need to comprehend on what makes an informed voter. Anyone above 18 years of age is an eligible voter, but an informed voter is the one who is abreast of not only the political process but also about all political parties, its candidates and what they stand for. For our young democracy, it’s not enough to focus only on eligible voters. But it’s our duty to keep them informed as well.