Updated: May 21, 2022
Esther Versluis, the Chair of the Election Board opened up the election results ceremony by asking for a round of applause and self-congratulations to the candidates and the elections office. The irony of this was not lost on Prof. Versluis who followed up by acknowledging the sliding voter turnout, professing that it has reflected what she has seen in her tutorials at FASoS. Characterising students as “not being there, not being motivated”. She recommended that the students present in the room “next year try to do something about it”, a comment that got more than a few eyeroles from candidates who feel that the University didn't do enough to promote the elections.
After the results were announced, we asked Prof. Versluis on her take on what responsibility the University bears for the low turnout? In response, she repeated that it was “in line with the general difficulty in getting students motivated” this year, citing Covid as a persistent reason, hoping that this could clear up in the coming year. She added that one of the first orders of business in the coming year should be to conduct a survey among students to determine what factors lead to this low participation.
With the Maastricht Diplomat, we organised the student election debate for the second time in a row and noticed many of the same trends that show in the election results. Last year, eight lists competed for seats on the University Council, seven of which sent a candidate to the debate. This year’s four lists made for a debate that could give a lot more room to each participant’s political ideas, but the trend is clear. Much fewer people signed up to run, and across the whole university, only a single independent candidate – Japhet Stone at the Law Faculty, who received a staggering 4 votes – made an attempt.
It is an open secret of Maastricht student politics that many votes are secured through personal connections rather than political persuasion, not even by ice cream. The result of fewer candidates is fewer voters. A recurring issue in every election is the engagement of student councillors with the student body throughout the year. If incoming students have heard nothing about student representation for several months, they can hardly be expected to develop a profound interest in it in the middle of period five.
In the time after the last elections and before this year’s campaigns, some parties have been much more present than others. DOPE, the party with half the University Council seats, already began its year on the Council with absence. None of their candidates were sighted at the results ceremony, something that does not bode well for participation going forward.
On the other hand, most of the student representatives who we got to know during interviews and in preparation of the election debate, are deeply committed to their cause and have been making great efforts to engage more students.
It is possible to speculate on the influence of list pushing or Covid, but the reality is that the university has no strategy on how to promote student politics. The student parties only have a limited capacity to reach students beyond those that are already interested. The university, on the other hand, has access to a plethora of mailing lists, could invite student representatives to speak at events, and has some forty thousand followers on Instagram. After almost a year of silence, a text-heavy email and a few half-hearted Instagram stories on the first day of the elections is not going to cut it.
In order to change this in the coming years, more needs to be done by the student body itself but also the University needs to ‘try to do something about it’.
This year’s debate and election coverage was our contribution to Maastricht’s political landscape. On the 23rd May, the next head editors will take over the Maastricht Diplomat. We are convinced that our journal is in the best of hands and we hope that it can continue to work on the visibility and accountability of student politics in the coming years. Stay tuned!
From us it’s farewell and thanks for all the fish!
– Brendan Hogan and Peter Pelzer