KIRKHS’s election: Low voters’ turnout explained

By Ariani Mohd Nor and Iylia Marsya Iskandar

With new beginnings, comes new challenges – a perfect way to describe the recent Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences Students’ Society (IRKHSSS) presidential election for the 2020/2021 tenure.

Out of the grand total of 4,385 IRKHS undergraduate students, only 1,167 of them made the initiative to vote.

The voter turnout, which makes up only 26.6 per cent, is truly an underwhelming number considering the previous Students’ Representative Council (SRC) elections have accumulated a 36.17 percent of turnouts from Human Sciences and a whopping 69.79 percent from Islamic Revealed Knowledge. 

So, what changed?

In order to answer these questions, we ran a survey in collaboration with IRKHSSS to figure out the reasons for the low voter turnout and how we can make this new system better in the future. 

  • Lack of time and the gravity of current issues

A total of 64.5 percent of the respondents have felt that the time given to vote was too limited and did not fit into their daily schedule – in the period where students have to rush to classes and finish their assignments on time, they might not have the time to vote as absences from classes due to voting cannot be excused. Some even recommended that the election committee consider extending voting hours because while many students were free during lunch hours, lining up to vote felt like a waste of time. 

Moreover, votings were made during the rise of Covid-19 outbreak – students may feel uneasy and hesitant to vote, as the votings require students to queue very closely to one another. Respondent 178 even mentioned that students feared the virus transmission and wished that the votings be conducted at another time.

  • Unfamiliar candidates and ‘recycled’ manifestos

A whopping 54.8 percent of the respondents have responded that their unfamiliarity with the candidates is one of the reasons that they have refused to vote. This might be explained in the next point on the lack of promotions, however, before the lack of promotions on the voting day itself, lack of promotions in terms of the candidates themselves are also at fault. Candidates failed to promote themselves, as such those who are not familiar with the system – majority are first year students, based on the survey – may also not be familiar with the people they were supposed to vote for. The lack of representation for international students as student leaders is also an issue that has been brought up on this topic.

Plus, respondents have brought up that many of their manifestos were deemed to be ‘recycled’ and irrelevant – candidates were focusing more on what the students wanted rather than what they need. For example, upgrading the pre-registration add-drop system for KIRKHS students can be a great start as it inclines to cause problems every semester; and improving basic facilities in the IRK buildings such as better air conditioning and improved furniture.

Candidates were also called out for being good at persuading, however not executing their manifestos during their period of tenure. 

As an advice, candidates should prove themselves worthy of people’s votes rather than being an all-talk. Why bother voting for someone who is unfamiliar when they cannot vote at all? Is a question that can be pondered upon for future electoral candidates in terms of promoting themselves to the public.

  • Shortcomings on Publication and Promotion

Being under the umbrella of Humanities courses, KIRKHS serves as the biggest kulliyyah in the university with over 4,000 undergraduate students. Besides the listed reasons, most respondents simultaneously answered that there was a lack of promotion on the day of the election especially physically until the election slipped their mind.

There was also a lack of promotion and awareness on the significance of voting for the Presidential Board, hence, the reason why most students opted not to vote. Furthermore, most students were also unaware of the short campaigning period and demo debate in the candidate’s efforts to gain more voters.

In short, promotion should have been done aggressively especially when there is a large number of students within the kulliyyah. Promotion should not focus solely on the day of the election but also on the awareness of the significance of voting and the introduction to candidates and their manifestos.

  • The vote-count process

Transparency is essential in every election process at all levels. Students need to be able to trust the Election Commission to ensure that democracy will be practised in the best possible manner. With this being said, the vote-count process for the board was opened to the public from 6.00 p.m on 12 March until the process finished at 4.00 a.m.

Present during the vote-count were two staffs from the Office of Security and Management (OSEM), the Election Commission, Election working committee, Election tribunal officers, polling officers, counting agents representatives which included representatives from Kulliyyah-based society such as Kulliyyah of Engineering Students’ Society (ENGINIUS),  Kulliyyah of Economics and Management Sciences Students’ Society (EMSS) and Kulliyyah of Architecture Students’ Society (ARCHIMIC) and observers which included candidates’ nominators or seconders.

All ballots were read out loud individually to the whole room and recording was strictly prohibited. Void ballots were also shown and the reason for void was stated out loud using a microphone. Vote counts were updated every 15 minutes and students could also have access to these counts from the comfort of their beds via IIUMToday’s twitter account and IRKHSSS’s Instagram.

In an interview with IIUMToday, the former President of IRKHSSS, Ika Danial expressed his target for the election, “Considering the underwhelming percentage of turnout voters for the Student Representative Council (SRC) Election in recent years, I did not put any high expectations for this first IRKHSSS election and targeted 30 per cent to 40 per cent as the benchmark for upcoming years.”

When asked to comment on the manifestos, Ika said that all candidates were able to bring fresh and updated manifestos.

Some honorary mentions included:

  1. IRKHS Book Centre (Amirul Sukarno)
  2. Mental Health Programmes (Anis Farihah and Shakirah Amir)
  3. IRKHS Students Assembly (Huzayl Mohd)

However, he wished that candidates were ready to expose students to the blueprint of their plans so they were be able to convince the voters better “At the end of the day, planning without a plan of action would be meaningless.”

For further improvements, Ika emphasised that the Election commission and Election working committee should be opened to all students of KIRKHS irrespective of background, to provide ample time for nomination and to boost the campaigning period with more visual aids to enliven the vibes of what an election should be.

As per what George Carlin had said, “If you do not vote, you lose the right to complain.” It is important to note that while we have heard the opinions of the students, and the students alone regarding the matter of the IRKHSSS Presidential Board Election, it is truly upon us all to create progress – the students themselves, the board, the Election Commission, and each and everyone else.

But above all, what would truly ignite this path towards progress is when all of us heed each other’s calls, unite as one to vote, and take a step forward together. When this happens, progress does not become doubtful, it becomes inevitable.***

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