If one thing came out strong and clear during the debate ‘Education Without Representation?’ held last Tuesday, it was that University is in need of a new electoral system which is more representative, and that if discussion is allowed and encouraged, such a system might be easier to uncover than one may think.
In fact, the two hour long debate served almost as a brain storming session of different systems that could be incorporated at University level such as a rotating council where even large student organisations are allowed to lead, or a Single Transferable Vote System which would guarantee representation, even of people coming from small parties amongst others.
Insite Malta and The Yuppie’s first of three debates saw the current University Student Council’s electoral system being discussed by a panel of four made up of Matthew Charles Zammit, former CEO of Insite Malta, Brendan Zerafa, who contested for the 2015 KSU elections as President for Pulse, Ian Zahra, former SDM President and Philip Leone Ganado, Times of Malta journalist. The debate was moderated by Andre Delicata.
The main argument which is clearly visible for all those who follow KSU elections was expressed very clearly by Leone-Ganado. In his view, the reason why the election process is not improving is due to the fact that it is hard for SDM to agree with a change in system since the First-Past-The-Post system is serving them very well. He goes on to say how Pulse, on the other hand, have neither the power nor the resources to push for change.
Moreover, Zammit maintained that in previous years change in the electoral system had started to be discussed but the proposal presented during the AGM was flawed, and due to that it was immediately defeated. Adding on, he expressed his hope that someone someday would write a proposal which could lead to some sort of change. In fact, Zammit took it upon himself to propose a new system and in fact, Insite Malta has willingly dedicated an issue of its Insiter Online magazine for it.
Zahra added on that while there were opportunities for such an electoral change, this has not happened so far. Pulse’s tactic of not contesting for the election and hoping that someday there will be a change in the current system is not right. If one is representing the students they should be there for the service of the students, and should be offering proposals and contesting the elections. Zahra added that although he is not very aware of the current situation in Pulse, the student organisation was not contesting the elections due to restructuring and not because of the electoral system per se.
The conversation took a turn when an alternative electoral system was proposed: one which limits the number of places one party can take up in KSU. This makes sure the council is not solely made up of 11 members of the same party. Therefore, such a system implies the use of a mixed council for a more representative KSU. This will not only give courage to both Pulse and SDM to continue contesting, but might also encourage independent candidates more and more. Sustaining this belief, Zammit expressed that he would prefer a more representative, inclusive and egalitarian council. While admitting that there will be different ideas which might lead to lack of agreement on some issues, this could serve as a test for the elected students to learn how to work together and ultimately compromise. At the end of the day, Local Councils around the islands serve as proof that mixed councils can work, especially since most of them function quite properly. If this didn’t work in KSJC, it does not mean this won’t work in KSU. Zerafa responded that a mixed council might be more transparent but one would have to solve the differences which will crop up and cannot simply dismiss the possibility of the members failing to work together.
Another suggestion brought to the table by Leone-Ganado was that of having shorter terms for KSU, with the possibility of the council changing every semester. The possibility of a longer time period than that of a year was also discussed but the general consensus seemed to revolve around having an election every 6 months, keeping the council fresh with ideas. Zammit added on that monitoring representation does not necessarily mean reducing the number of elections.
One of the questions in the discussion made reference to the letter sent by Professor Kevin Aquilina in the Sunday Times on the 22nd of April. The Dean of Law said that the system of the winner takes it all structure currently being used at University leaves students unrepresented. Ian Zahra said that he has a sense of respect towards the Dean but the article shocked him and insisted that points mentioned in the article were not researched properly. One of the allegations was that the KSU’s Office has become like the PN Office. Zahra opposed this by saying that KSU does not follow instructions from either party.
Matthew Charles Zammit pointed out how KSJC are already considering making changes in the electoral system but on University’s side we remain stagnant. The point Professor Aquilina was attempting to bring across was that there is no proper representation of the University students, Matthew explained. One of the main issues for this would be the fact that student activism seems to be at an all time low, despite the constant campaigns and research that has been going into uncovering what we can do to get students to become more active on campus. Zerafa implied that student activism might be low as there are a large number of students who work part time or are doing evening courses and thus they do not have time to invest in student activism. There are a lot of students who come for their lectures and leave once they are over.
Following two years of Pulse refusing to contest for the KSU elections, the ex SDM President insisted that the organisation is mostly inexistent on Campus and therefore is no longer a stakeholder at University. Zahra revealed how SDM had started working on an online system in order to encourage students to participate in elections, now being able to do it from home. This same system of course was halted the moment that Pulse yet again decided not to contest the elections. Nonetheless, this year an election will be happening for the role of Culture and Entertainment Officer within KSU between Harley Mallia for SDM and Nicholas Martinelli as an independent candidate.
Needless to say, there is an apparent need for further discussion on the topic and to secure KSU’s commitment to make the necessary changes that will benefit the student population as a whole. From a debate that lasted only two hours, it already proved to be a start and showed that there are multiple ways which can lead the council to become more representative. It is now in the students’ hands to take on the challenge and discuss and come up with a better system that will benefit all of the student body at large.
Nicole Borg is a currently a 4th year student studying Communications and Theatre Studies. She joined Insite as a writer and editor in 2014/2015. Following she progressed to join the media team as Publications Officer in 2015/16. Currently she is the Executive Editor of Insite Malta for the term of 2016/17.