By Rajae Danvers
The Electoral Planning and Oversight Committee is the body which gives oversight on all matters relating to elections for the United Student Movement (USM). This body is chaired by the Director of Elections Policies and Constitutional Affairs (EPCA), Mikael Allen. As stated in the constitution; the body comprises of two Independent Student Senators, two Student Senators and Advisors.
This body has seemingly set out to further erode the obvious student apathy and ennui towards the student government. Have they not seen how hard it was to fill the positions with candidates in the beginning? Have they not recognised that an appalling percentage of the students don’t even know that there is a student led government to advocate and facilitate academic and social development amongst students ? Or have they not noted that there is no landmark project of the current USM to date that has impacted a large cross section of students? I guess not.
I fell short of a mental stroke as I listened to our very strategic and well learnt Director of EPCA verbalising the english language to the Queen’s envy, stating, “Due to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus and the request of our local government , we will seek to utilize the various social media platforms and the various media`s online for candidates in this upcoming election to promote their plans and projections”. Naturally we would believe that those mediums would have been used with or without the pandemic. He went on to say, “I officially declare the campaign open….”
I was brought to solace as there is nothing wrong in declaring the campaign open . Moreover long campaigns are ubiquitous in the western world. We see this in the popular US electoral cycle – months before.
Soon after, I saw the declaration of an Election date – April 8, 2020. This flung me into a state of disbelief. In the middle of corona, Director Allen has scheduled an election to give what appears to be the final blow to our democracy as students and apparently, the USM is watching with full approval .
How EPOC Miserably Failed
Elections should be the opposite of “social distancing”. They are public events that deliberately bring together people to exchange ideas and transmit infectious arguments about the future direction of a community . They should involve candidates and their supporters reaching out to other students to get the vote out. It involves speaking with students, faculty & staff, leaflet/pamphlet distribution in busy areas on campus and the holding of town halls and debates with activists drumming up support. Those are all signs of a healthy election.
Elections are also supposed to be a time for talking. Simply holding an election is insufficient because students should actively consider their interests and their issues, weigh up competing arguments made by candidates, and discuss them around the library, in the cafe or even at The Ville. It is the electrifying nature of the Q&A of the debates that drives voters to the polls. It’s that 1 viral moment like when – Euzel Parks said “Have a seat” that will stir up vim, vigour and veracity in the electorate. Not to mention the whit laden answer then Presidential hopeful Oneyka Nevins gave when asked, What separates him from his then opponent Wrenae Hudson? His response – Maturity, electrified the salivating audience. The debates ended there and then. Instances like these will send students out to the polls.
I’m not proclaiming to be any Guru but it’s simple math, if the students don’t know who is running, they don’t care. If they don’t know and don’t care – they won’t vote. If they don’t know, don`t care and don’t vote, there can be no government. A government without the confidence of the people is like a broken pencil- pointless. The selected body will simply speak to themselves and spend the time in office campaigning for support rather than executing change. When leaving office the government may at that time earn the confidence and awareness of the people but by that time , it would be too late.
Democracy relies on responsible governments, the least the USM can do is to act as a custodian for the process and not be experimental or void of pragmatism about the process. The EPOC team should go back to the drawing board and get it right. Perhaps a change of the Mr. N. Wilson as advisor is a good start. You see, this is extremely important because most of the candidates are not popular on campus, especially our Presidential candidates, with no recent decorated history of leadership [we] the public must be given a chance to test their grit, genuity and leadership stamina.
We do not need to look far for best practices; UWI, a revered university in the country, has postponed its Guild Elections, candidates are on social media ramping up support in the interim, Church Teachers’ College has also postponed their elections.
In 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo delayed the presidential contest because of Ebola. In 2001, the UK general election was held off because of the spread of foot and mouth disease across the country. The idea is simple-with no physical school, there can be no physical campaigning, without physical campaigning there can be no [true] voting.
The noble body may consider postponing the elections to September. The candidates can be introduced at the 2nd official general student assembly. The Election can take place 2 weeks prior to the set date for the inauguration of the movement [or] they can have the budget presentation and Inauguration in one. Times like these require us to flex our muscles of intellectualism and search out the opportunities in this crisis.
It’s impossible to run an election at a time like this – or during a natural disaster. These votes will never end up being the democratic ideal. Students are busy doing assignments and suffering for the infodemic of the realities in life. Some don’t even have the internet as I pen these words.
There needs to be a place for that student who travelled from the hills of Asia in Manchester, who has no internet, or light. He/She deserves a chance to select their leader too.
Rajae Danvers is a Political and Social Commentator as well as a National Youth Parliamentarian.