Youth in Kyrgyzstan are not often asked their opinion on political matters. However, NDI’s work with youth activists in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, has demonstrated that youth are enthusiastic and capable participants in the political process, eager to have their voices heard.
In 2015, NDI advised youth activists on a large get-out-the-vote campaign ahead of that year’s parliamentary elections. NDI partnered with 16 activist leaders who met with their peers, many of whom would be first-time voters, at university campuses to talk about the importance of voting and explain electoral procedures. The young people took advantage of growing social media use among their peers to broaden their reach, designing videos, webpages and even organizing a “selfie voter-registration challenge” (Selfiekattoo). In total, videos produced by the activists were viewed over 150,000 times online, an impressive figure given the low level of internet penetration in Kyrgyzstan. The campaign demonstrated that there is considerable potential in the country for effective online advocacy.
Energized by their experience around elections, in August 2016, many of the activists returned to participate in other NDI programs and ensure that young voices continued to be heard by their elected officials. They collaborated on a 10-point “Youth Platform,” outlining top issues that Bishkek’s youth wanted to see addressed by the city’s leaders. They conducted extensive surveys of their communities, fielding feedback from over 1,600 young citizens in Bishkek.
Since August, the youth activists have presented their platform to political party representatives and the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, gaining pledges of support and fielding feedback. Taking this work further, the youth activists developed a series of videos, in which they asked questions based on the platform of Bishkek city council candidates at NDI-supported debates. The resulting commitment of party officials provides a basis for ongoing youth-local government engagement and specific promises outlined in the platform will provide a benchmark against which to measure the city council’s progress in responding to Bishkek’s youth.
Youth Activists canvass neighborhoods to speak with young voters in Bishkek
The youth activists successfully expanded their reach ahead of the local council elections in December 2016, this time, making use of celebrities to attract the interest of their peers. Ten activists developed three voter mobilization videos featuring local celebrities from the music, comedy and film industries. The celebrities talked about their views on elections and voting in response to questions designed by the youth activists. By utilizing prominent personalities the videos turned what might otherwise have been perceived as mundane local council elections into something youth could get excited about.
In one week, the videos had reached around 325,000 people and had over 200,000 engagements (views, likes, comments and shares), almost doubling the view total seen under the 2015 GOTV project. These results illustrate that campaigns led by and targeted towards youth can be effective in promoting increased political engagement, even in a country where sustained youth involvement in the political process has limited precedent.
The Kyrgyzstan Political Process Program was implemented by NDI as a member of the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).