Student parties: ‘Fair elections at risk’
Negotiations on a new electoral covenant have broken down. Party Front walked away from the negotiating table. A threat to election independence, according to Party SAM and four other student parties.
“I am very disappointed. All parties involved have put a lot of time and effort into making the covenant a reality. But last meeting, Party Front walked away from the negotiating table without a batting an eyelid.”
This is Veronique Coenen, Party SAM’s chair. Together with the School parties Dante, Vrijspraak, ECCO, and Stimulus, she signed an open letter to all Tilburg University students, expressing concerns about the course of the student elections in April.
To ensure that student elections are conducted in a fair and orderly manner, student parties have been making agreements about this since 2016, which they document in a covenant. But that covenant doesn’t seem to be happening this year, with all the consequences that entails. The question is whether there will be fair, independent, and safe elections this year, the signatories argue.
One example of a deal-breakerwas the possibility of digital elections. “Back in December, we, among others, as Party SAM, wanted to establish that the 2021 elections would take place online,” Coenen said.
“Currently, almost all students have been attending lectures at home for almost a year. We feel it is irresponsible then to allow elections, which involve physical contact between students, to take place on campus. Party Front wanted to postpone this decision and otherwise would have already dropped out of the covenant at that time.”
Another thorn in the parties’ side is the recent presence of Party Front at the School level. Since last year, the party, which like Party SAM normally only has a seat in the University Council, has also been represented within the Schools with its Active parties (Dutch only). Something the other Schools’ student parties, some of which have existed for over thirty years, are not at all happy about.
The fact that the Active parties are supported by Party Front gives them disproportionate power, the parties argue. “We think it’s important that parties don’t start promoting each other,” says Pim van Kuijk, Party Vrijspraak’s chair.
“When a party with a lot of resources and a large network starts promoting a smaller party, an unfair advantage over the other parties is created. This will force these parties to also join a larger party, or they will, as a result of unfair elections, slowly disappear from the scene.”
The result is a narrowing of the political playing field. And polarization: “You have to deal with block formation. The ‘us against them’ struggle is not in the best interest of the student, especially at the School level.”
Back at the table
How to proceed? According to Coenen, holding elections without a covenant is not justified. “Especially in times of a global pandemic, a covenant is necessary. Party SAM wants to establish that the 2021 elections will take place entirely online. Physical elections are counter to public health, and we do not want the next coronavirus wave to occur in Tilburg.”
The student parties indicate in the open letter that they are willing to continue negotiations. “But only with parties that place the same value on the basic principles of good elections,” Van Kuijk informs us. “We have this attitude towards all parties, and therefore also towards Party Front. Should we want to successfully reach a covenant with all parties, Party Front will have to adjust its position.”