jeudi 3 décembre 2009

There are Other Ways...

Seamus Wolfe’s recent suggestion that there be political parties permitted in SFUO elections scares many people. Of course, running as a slate when it is against the rules or having slates under the current functioning is bad, but let me tell you of another way.
Last year, I, a little GeeGee on exchange at the University of Iceland, got involved in their student council elections and I can tell you they are light-years ahead of us precisely because of the party system. There are two parties, Vaka and Röskva, which compete in the annual elections. Elections are not limited to these two parties, but they have been around for a long time and represent the essential differences in visions of a student council: Vaka wants to focus on student affairs on campus while Röskva focuses on everything relating to being a student like getting a free bus pass or something like that.

Of course, my bias is towards Röskva because I was a candidate in the elections for them. Sound strange that someone who was going home in two months could be elected? Well, each party puts up 18 candidates for the student council and there are 9 places in total to be divided for the parties which are divided according the percentage of vote received. Usually it is split 4 and 5. This combines with the 9 people who were elected the year before. If the winning party changes, one of the students elected the previous year loses their seat and the student from the other party takes it. All of this means that the winning party has 10 seats, the other party 8. Like in the SFUO, there are different committees and issues and these are formed by the members of the student council – even the losing party getting to chair a committee or two like student affairs, university affairs and family affairs (because many students are also parents in Iceland).

There are many advantages to all of this. The way I got involved was that they wanted an international student to see what international students thought could be done to improve the student council so I went around asking people what they thought was needed. I came up with various ideas and it was all put together into a whole platform. Röskva was fighting for quicker visas for international students, keeping the free bus passes (that’s right, they have them because the student council fought for them) and not having classes past 5 because day cares are closed and it makes life difficult for the parents. Even having better and more vegetarian food at the school cafeteria made it into the platform (which I had fun debating until 3 am, in Icelandic, on a Saturday night). It is published and people know what the party would fight for if elected.

Another plus is that odds are you will know someone on either list, there are 18 people on each side from all sorts of different faculties and so it is not just a popularity contest like it is now. With so many people, each party will have a table in each building every day of the campaign and give out buttons, coffee, sandwiches, occasionally condoms to attract attention. More than 54% of the 13000 university students voted last year! Each party will call and text students to answer questions and remind them to vote. With individual students campaigning here, that is just not feasible and unless you dig deep you don’t really know what they are campaigning about. The party system eliminates the focus on individuals and brings it to ideas and potential candidates whose ideas are too far-fetched for more centre parties can form their own ensuring their voices are heard.
What is especially useful is that the student council gets results. The University represents 3% of the population of the entire country and most educated people in the country and government went to that University at some point. Instead of considering everything a campaign and a battle as it is done here, they will negotiate directly with the people who are concerned and have had incredible success at it. Even though Röskva didn’t win this year, the idea of not having class past 5 was brought by Vaka and is now being implemented. So, what was so bad about having political parties for the SFUO again?

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