Two weeks ago, when the nominations for the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA)’s elections were open, The Student had interviewed five students who were considering running for the President position. The potential nominees had shared their thoughts and concerns for the upcoming campaigns, each of them hoping that this year’s campaign would be clean by assuring to stick to their own policies, and expressed a rather optimistic viewpoint on the voter turnouts. One of the nominees even ‘cast-iron promised’ that there would not be any sort of negative campaigning involved.
Despite the initial belief that 2015’s campaigning would actually differ from those in the past years, and stray away from some of the vile and toxic practices that have been conducted to downgrade the opposing candidates, some of this year’s scandals regarding the elections confirm that this year has really been no different.
In fact, it was arguably even worse.
This election’s only openly gay presidential candidate had some of his promotional materials vandalised and destroyed by having words such as ‘paedophile’ and ‘faggot’ written on them, with the insinuation being that because he liked people of the same-sex, he therefore is automatically assumed to want to have sexual contact with children. This election’s only black and female presidential candidate has been allegedly been accused to be a racist, due to the incident of her responding to a status on Facebook publicly with the comment ‘F*ck you, white person’. An incautious and ill-considered, yet misinterpreted comment posted back in October has been picked up by The Tab, and was posted online openly slamming the candidate. The scandal consequentially went viral, provoking outrage and fury, and gave rise to the main discussion whether this was ‘reverse racism’ or not, and even instigating an online petition to revoke her candidacy.
These absurd and malign stances that some individuals take – especially on social media – to undermine candidates may work in the short-run to deprive them potential votes, but these individuals genuinely seem to be unaware of what emotional strains they are causing to these candidates, and what the long-term consequences would be resulting from these acts. These acts will substantially deter future students from being involved in our student democracy, whether it is running for a EUSA position, campaigning for a position, or even voting. Considering that students at the university of Edinburgh are already generally unwilling to vote in EUSA elections – last year’s turnout being less than 17 per cent of the student members – the vicious debates over social media, and the dreadful racist and homophobic slurs made openly on campus will undoubtedly deteriorate the situation. After all the disenchanting views, and skewed interpretations of particular candidates that occurred during the past week – ranging from accusations of racism, sexism and even homophobia – who will, in fact, be motivated to still stand up for campaigns and manifestos that they firmly believe in, when they could potentially be the next victims of these malicious acts?
A few, hopefully, still would be, but as a registered charity and a student organisation, EUSA serves the purpose to assure the participation and influence of students in its decision-making processes. This essentially includes encouragements for students to vote, and to select the right candidates to represent us as an association. Their views, their voices and their university experience matter, and all students should be encouraged to get involved in the process. Campus politics should become healthier to make this happen.