For active participants in student autonomy, two negative news items this month are particularly worrying.
On June 11, school officials ruled null and void a May 28 election for president of the Kaohsiung Senior High School Student Association, because the student that won had reportedly during the campaign sought to form a coalition with other candidates and allocate them seats if he was elected, which the school determined to be a form of election bribery.
The other incident involves a June 11 election for deputy president of the Shih Chien University Student Association. A candidate reportedly took advantage of a moment when student election officers were not watching to grab blank ballots, stamp them with the election seal and place them in the ballot box, so as to ensure enough votes for him and his running mate, who were standing unopposed, to win.
The school formally reprimanded the student for ballot stuffing.
Student autonomy is an embryonic form of politics. Student associations, like government institutions, are structured to separate powers into executive, legislative and judicial branches that work together while applying mutual checks and balances.
Students have the power to elect and recall the officers of their autonomous associations. In some schools, students even have initiatives and referendums.
Participation in student autonomy fosters students’ awareness of their rights and powers as citizens, as well as independent thinking and the ability to participate in public affairs.
Elections are the principal means by which student autonomy can function and persevere. It is therefore particularly important that election procedures and results are lawful and fair.
Even the slightest carelessness can shake the foundation of students’ trust in student autonomy, and it can also cause them to lose interest in matters of public concern.
It is even worse if candidates intentionally indulge in election malpractices such as bribery and ballot stuffing. Such abuses could lead to unrest and even clashes within student associations, and cast doubt on the legitimacy of their elected officers.
Another possible repercussion is that candidates who lose an election might not accept their loss and appeal the results. If a second election is needed, it could waste resources.
It would be a dark day for campus democracy and civic education in Taiwan if student autonomy degenerated to the state of affairs possible on the dark side of real politics, rife with malpractices such as election bribery, ballot stuffing, pork-barrel deals and slander.
Hopefully, everyone who takes part in student autonomy will draw a lesson from the recent events at Kaohsiung Senior High School and Shih Chien University.
The conduct of student association elections can be rectified if students take part in them with proper dignity and solemnity.
Lai Yen-cheng is deputy secretary-general of the National Chung Hsing University Student Congress.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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