Last Friday’s Exec Showdown between Pulse and SDM’s respective top 3 was with no surprise another heated debate added to the list of countless fiery discussions both student political organisations have encountered. This was the second collaboration between Insite Malta and The Yuppie, as part of their organised series of debates which aim to address directly the current issues surrounding this year’s KSU elections.
Moderated by Matthias Mallia, the debate was divided in three parts: the first part consisted of Pulse’s Secretary General Julian Guillaumier and SDM’s University Co-ordinator William Farrugia taking the hot-seat, followed by the vice presidents Gabriel Camilleri (SDM) and John Luke Ellul(Pulse) in the second part. The final part consisted of Presidents Ayrton Sammut and Gabriel Micallef concluding the debate.
Although I try to follow student activism at University to the best of my ability, covering this debate with Insite Malta was a personal excuse to attend a PULSE VS SDM debate for the first time. I wanted to challenge my perceptions about the significance of having such debates: do they contribute in creating a healthy discussion, or are they another excuse to pin point at each other’s flaws (as the majority of the student body might perceive it)?
The debate commenced with SDM’s University Co-ordinator William Farrugia and Pulse’s Secretary General Julian Guillaumier taking the hot-seat. Asked about the relevance of KSU to the student body, both sides agreed that KSU is the most relevant entity to the student. Farrugia commented how through different incentives such as the night-time study area and 5-minute reading time during exam period, KSU has managed to affect every University student. His main concern is how KSU and other involved students can show other students the hard work being done for their benefit. Guillaumier continued by stating that KSU is responsible to help the student in every way possible, whether it’s in the academic or social domains.
The debate proceeded to challenge both speakers to talk about the strengths and weaknesses found in KSU over the past term. Guillaumier mentioned the success and usefulness of Gozo Transport Fund Scheme, but also criticised KSU’s lack of effort to increase student representation across the whole year. On the other hand, Farrugia mentioned the improvement in the payment and booking system for Quadrangle, and also admitted that certain clashes between KSU’s own events could have been prevented. The speakers concluded by talking about the work done by both Pulse and SDM respectively, outside of the KSU elections, in the past term. Farrugia started by mentioning, Draw the Line and Be A Winner: two SDM grown campaigns which addressed at raising more awareness about bullying and the importance of physical fitness separately. He finally concluded by mentioning SDM’s recent campaign Leave Your Mark, a campaign which aimed to reduce student apathy amongst University Students. Guillaumier discussed the Student Fund, Pulse’s initiative to financially help students coming from a challenging social background. He also talked about the revamp their International Office is undergoing.
Allowing some time for the audience to ask any questions, it was Steph Dalli who first took the stage. She expressed herself about the irony for Pulse to make such an accusation, especially in light of their absence in this year’s KSU elections. Commenting about the several initiatives SDM took in increasing student representation, Dalli spoke about the opportunities students had to participate and voice there concerns, particularly through the Open Policy Forum, and the several subcommittees the Exectuvie created.
The debate continuted with the vice presidents taking the floor, primarily discussing Pulse’s decision not to contest in this year’s elections for the second consecutive year. John Luke Ellul argued that an organisation’s focus shouldn’t solely be on such elections, which is why Pulse opted to represent the students in different ways. On the contrary, Gabriel Camilleri expressed his disappointment regarding Pulse’s decision, especially when SDM’s _Leave Your Mark___ campaign had been launched, and said that the student cannot compare SDM’s vision to make University a better place with that of another party as a consequence.
The debate shifted focus on the issue regarding the current electoral system in place. Camilleri stated that SDM is open to discuss about possible alternatives to replace the present electoral system. When asked whether he believes SDM is open to do so, John Ellul replied that he hopes that SDM is ready for a holistic change, expressing his dislike for the US vs THEM mentality still unfortunately present. Camilleri invited Pulse to share their proposals with SDM, stating that there’s no point in discussing without proposals at hand, and hopes to build a compromise with them. When asked about whether having a mixed council in KSU would work, both sides didn’t deny it’s possibility, especially since both KSJC and KSU hold different ideologies and maturity levels.
It was time for presidents Gabriel Micallef and Ayrton Sammut to take their seat and answer the questions. Asked about how student apathy can be solved, Micallef acknowledged the decrease in student activism, and explained how student organisations where contacted through their campaign to see what’s wrong. He proposed that consultation meetings with student organisations can be done. Although Sammut also acknowledged student apathy at university, he also distinguished the difference between lack of participation and lack of interest. He argued that students may still show interest but may not have the time to participate actively because of other commitments they might have. Sammut also mentioned that one needs to start considering what pushes one to enter a student organisation, as well as showing the benefits of being active in such entities. The audience was once again given the opportunity to ask questions KSU’s newly elected President Robert Napier intervened, criticising Pulse’s absence at this year’s AGM. This was followed by SDM’s Junior College Co-ordinator Jake Scerri agreeing with Napier, and stating that JC students should also be educated about the AGM and to be encouraged to attend it. Sammut argued that although he encouraged students to attend the AGM, their attendance is not in his control. He went on by challenging the present manner in which students are informed about the AGM, and contended that one must attend such an event as a student not as part of an organisation.
Shifting back to talking about the present electoral system, Micallef continued by explaining the system’s Diamond Structure which ensures diverse and interested students to get involved by voicing their opinion, electing their candidates and participating in several forums. Sammut voiced that there needs to be a more representative, mixed and independent student council within University, and when asked about Pulse’s decision not to contest for this year’s elections, he commented that this was an internal decision and not an opposition to the current electoral system, even though he admitted that he prefers alternative systems. Contrastingly, Micallef saw Pulse’s decision as egoistic, especially because they still contested in elections of MCAST and Junior College respectively.
The debate went off a tangent after several accusations from both organisations commenced with regards to the result of the last KSM election at MCAST. It was Independent Candidate for Culture and Entertainment Office Nicholas Martinelli, who intervened by questioning whether such a divide wants to be seen in the electoral system, rather than joing forces to find a compromise. Despite both sides seeing this disagreement as a diversity, the discussion eventually turned into an argument on whether Pulse was involved in proposing any ideas or alternatives in the past term, and then shifted back into discussing about a possible alternative electoral system. Accusations regarding whether KSU and SDM really listened or ignored Pulse’s proposals was also made. Martinelli once again intervened towards the end of the debate, stating that if both sides are courageous enough, they can come to a compromise and eventually change the electoral system once and for all.
Concluding the debate, Mathias Mallia asked both organisations on their plans for the future. Both presidents mentioned being active in the upcoming General Elections as part of their respective plans, with regards to public consultation with students and also with publishing their own views about the respective parties’ manifesto. They also plan to keep on fighting the lack of student activism present with their repsective teams.
Being a first time attendant of such events, I was not surprised to see such accusations being made to and fro from each side. However in this sea of accusations, I was relieved to notice a glimpse of hope that both organisations see that there are things that need to be worked on for the students’ best interest. It’s now time to put words into actions: both organisations, together with KSU and any other interested student, should join forces to discuss about the issues the present University Student Body is facing, especially with regards to finding an alternative electoral system which would benefit everyone. Tallying up which student political organization did the most mistakes will certainly not get such an important entity to move forward!