“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill’s words couldn’t feel more apt and poignant to the election period which just came to an end at the University of Malta, one which ended with SDM gaining another victory and retaining its leadership of the KSU. This quote pretty much encompasses an ideal candidate – voter relationship, in which ideas are presented in unison with the emergence of candidates hoping to be elected and the proposals are put forward at the discretion of the voters. In this case, the voters are University students, who should analyse and dissect the manifestos of both Pulse and SDM, as well as any other candidacy.
It goes without saying, that the support base of both main student organisations is a manifestation of the supporters of both leading Maltese political parties, thus delivering a political sensation in election periods such as the one which we just had. This environment has often been associated with both Pulse and SDM, with these student organisations being perceived as extensions of Malta’s two main political parties. Undoubtedly, this phenomenon transcribes itself into the outlook young people have on student politics in Malta.
There are two main reasons given as to why students choose to deviate from elections like these: “Either way, the student organisations won’t fulfil their promises and just use their positions for popularity and elitism;” or “Both organisations are just a means for both the Labour and Nationalist Party to convey their agenda, rather than listening to the opinions of the students on education and other issues which concern them.” Obviously, these are not forgone sentiments, and amounts to just as many people not caring as those who dedicate work and time to the cause of student activism, in any way, shape or form at the University of Malta.
Unfortunately, student activism of this nature is immediately thought of as having political connotations, and the election which we just had certainly hadn’t been deprived of its political episodes. Instances which inevitably come to mind are the saga surrounding anonymous phone-calls to University students asking them to participate in a survey from an unknown source; vandalism on SDM posters and banners; and the controversy which stemmed from then Pulse presidential candidate Jean Claude Scicluna appearing on the ONE TV current affairs programme Pjazza.
This sense of political affiliation defeats the purpose of what genuine student activism is meant to be about. As much as it consists of delivering speeches and putting up events, which at their epicentre are evidently aimed at the benefit of the students, it should also be made up of continuous communication between KSU and the student community. This guarantees that the students and their elected representatives are on equal footing, rather than put on a pedestal. With that said, for the presence of student activism to be one of communicative politics on current issues and problems at University, any and all forms of partisanship must be eliminated from the democratic process.
If this were so, an independent line of thought would facilitate a constructive environment, by means of which students across the board can express their views and suggest improvements on what they view as being pressing concerns. KSU can then better convey the grievances of the students into the measures which they implement on their behalf. Organisations should work together with members of the KSU, acting upon suggestions from the students on what needs to be done at University. This would restore a good deal of confidence in student activism in general, and encourage more people to participate in such initiatives, if not for their own interest, in order to make a difference for someone else.