This week, as you’ve might have noticed in your inbox and on U-Today, University (and faculty) Council elections are being held. If not, that’s okay — I also almost forgot. So last weekend I decided to scroll through the candidate list.
What I found was somewhat disappointing, but not surprising. There’s indeed little to choose from. Most of the candidates are either white, male, Dutch, or a combination of thereof. Most of them, on top of that, are also current or former board members; mostly of study associations, some from others.
This is not the only problem the University Council has. After all, the Council has been dealing with lower and lower voter turn-out in the years I’ve studied here. It started at a higher than average 41%, but that has since dropped to 28% with last year’s election. Moreover, most student parties don’t tend to last long. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen both uTOP and Genesis come and go — the former was supposed to run with 15 candidates this year by the way. Before that, the ‘Free Student’ made a halfhearted attempt, but decided against running later on. The party of the UT and the Campus Coalition also seem to have fizzled out a couple of years ago. Now, only Ureka and DAS remain.
It’s not just Twente which has been having this problem: seemingly, across the board, at almost all Dutch universities, voter turnout has been decreasing year after year. For example, in Leiden, with 15% turnout, that arguably gave my colleague Omar a chance to win a council seat there — with his own party, ‘Omar’s Interests’. (Although, he gave the seat back to the party he ‘won’ it from).
If you ask me, this touches at the heart of the issue. As Omar already writes, the game of musical chairs for your vote by vague acquaintances who are willing to ‘sacrifice’ themselves to represent your voice has begun. Who really votes based on content or ideology? The council just does not live in the minds of the electorate. And why would it? After all, it’s only democracy-lite, with a sprinkle of a lobby group.
So, at least the student delegation has gotten itself into a bit of a pickle. A viscous — no, sorry, that was the engineer in me — vicious circle. A detached electorate, with a mandate shrinking with every passing year, coupled with two lists of nigh-indistinguishable incumbents which far from represent the student body as a whole (regardless of what they might say themselves) causing the electorate to become even more detached. Yet another parallel to national politics.
Just consider (and they probably should have), do you feel represented if all you see is a pile of mostly Dutch, male ‘board year’s, if you’re not one or none of those things? You can’t tell me that there weren’t any viable candidates not in that aforementioned set. Maybe somewhere in that 72%?
After I submit this column, it will probably slip my mind again, and it might slip yours too. Or will you still, despite all of our democracy’s problems, go vote?