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Young Pakistanis favor Islamic law over democracy

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A larger number of young Pakistanis believe the country should be governed by Islamic law or military rule rather than function as a democracy, according to a survey released Wednesday, weeks before historic national elections.

Pakistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections May 11 — the first transition between democratically elected governments in a country that has experienced three military coups and constant political instability since its creation in 1947. Parliament’s ability to complete its five-year term has been hailed as a significant achievement.

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But a survey by the British Council found that young Pakistanis — between the ages of 18 and 29 — have grown more pessimistic about the future as the country has struggled with a weak economy, high inflation, pervasive energy shortages, and a deadly Taliban insurgency.

About 94 percent of those surveyed said the country is going in the wrong direction, compared with 86 percent in 2009. Fewer than a quarter said democracy has benefited themselves or their families.

Only 29 percent of young Pakistanis surveyed said democracy is the best political system for the country.

‘‘Look at this government that just completed its term. What did it give to people?’’ said Waseem­ Qureshi, a 24-year-old call center worker. ‘‘You keep looting national wealth, and you tell us to bear with it because it’s democracy.’’

Many Pakistanis have an extremely low opinion of the country’s politicians, whom they often view as more interested in earning money through corruption than dealing with problems.

Qureshi said Islamic law, or Shariah, would be better suited for Pakistan. About 38 percent of young Pakistanis polled agreed with him, a reflection of the deeply held religious views of many young people in the majority Muslim country.

Military rule also came out ahead of democracy, with 32 percent support, despite the turbulent history of the army’s toppling civilian governments in coups. The survey found that the army enjoys much higher levels of support among people, 77 percent, than the civilian government, 14 percent.

‘‘Military rule is better than democracy, at least compared to what we have experienced in recent times,’’ said Uzair Bashir, a 20-year-old university student in Karachi.

He cited the era of General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, left Pakistan in self-imposed exile in 2008, and recently returned to run in elections. ‘‘During his rule youngsters had job opportunities, security was far better than today, economic conditions were good, and there was less inflation,’’ Bashir said.

The three forms of government were offered as distinct choices, although in theory Islamic­ law could be implemented in conjunction with either democracy or military rule.

Despite the poll results, Pakistan’s bulging youth population could influence the upcoming election. More than 30 percent of registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 29, and many will be voting for the first time, the report said.

Many young Pakistanis have been drawn to former cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has railed against the traditional political parties as bastions of corruption. His message has hit a chord, especially among the urban middle class, but the question is whether he can motivate young people to vote.

About 60 percent of young people polled plan to vote, while another 10 percent said they could still be persuaded to turn out.

High inflation, unemployment, and poverty are three of the most important issues for young Pakistanis; one in 10 are in s stable job. Many are concerned about education, health care, terrorism, corruption, and energy and water shortages.

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