Disagreement amongst student parties: elections or no elections?

Campaign for the university council elections. Photo: DUB

The elections should’ve taken place between April 20 and April 22; students could declare their candidacy until this week. But that schedule has been put aside for now, a decision made early this week by the Central Election Office, in agreement with the university board and the University Council.

President of the Central Election Office (CSB), Fred Toppen, says he received many questions about whether or not the elections would take place, as the deadline for candidacies neared. As the elections are held online each year, one of the options would be to continue as normal. But the CSB says that in this situation, it would not be sensible to do so. Toppen: “In both recruitment of candidates and campaigning activities, some form of social interaction is needed.”

Online campaigning
Next week will bring more clarity about what will happen now – and this might become quite a tricky puzzle to solve. Three of the four current student parties in the council – Lijst Vuur, de Partij voor de Utrechtse Student, and De Vrije Student – feel that given the current circumstances, it’s not a good idea to hold the elections any time before the summer. It’s expected that most students will mainly study from home in the next academic block as well.

Online elections, with an online campaign at a later date, is not the preferred option of the three parties. That would be detrimental to voter turnout, and inappropriate to do during a crisis, they feel. Council member Eva Klaver of De Vrije Student says, on behalf of the three parties: “You don’t want to bother students with all kinds of ‘vote for me’ posts right now. People have enough to worry about.”

But postponing until after the summer is just as problematic, according to these parties, because the current students would have to keep their seats until that time. Klaver: “Many members already have other plans for after the summer: doing a Master’s programme, or going abroad. You’d have to work with interim candidates, and it’d be quite a challenge to find those now.”

In a letter to DUB (links in Dutch, ed.), the three parties call for maintaining the current seat distribution (Vuur 5, de Partij voor de Utrechtse Student 4 and De Vrije Student 2) next academic year without holding elections. The parties would be able to appoint new council members themselves.

That plan did not count on resistance from the smallest student party, UUinAction. Council member Ashley van Driel points out that ‘democratisation of the university’ is an important point in the programme of her party. “We feel that students should be able to vote for their representatives.”

UUinAction also sent in an opinion piece to DUB. Van Driel says elections before the summer should be possible, especially since students always vote online anyway. The biggest difference would be that the campaigning would also be done online. “But if students can attend classes online, then I’d think online voting should be possible as well.”

One suggestion, made by the other three parties, was to hold an online referendum about what UU students feel about the proposal of maintaining the current seat distribution without elections. Van Driel calls this proposal “very cumbersome”. Her party has since started an online petition that calls for students to sign it if they do want the elections to take place.