By Iylia Marsya Iskandar and Hakim Mahari
With new beginnings, comes new challenges – a perfect way to describe the recent Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences Students’ Society (IRKHSSS) general election for the 2020/2021 tenure.
Out of the grand total of 4,383 IRKHS undergraduate students, only 1,499 of them took the initiative to vote.
The voter turnout, at only 34.2 percent, is truly an underwhelming number compared with the Bachelor of Education Students’ Associations (BEDSA) election that recorded 80.19 percent turnout and the Engineering Students’ Society (ENGINIUS) elections at 51.46 percent.
We wonder what had made IRKHSSS election scoring the lowest voter turnout although this kulliyyah has a larger number of students than the other kulliyyah.
To answer these questions, we (at IIUMToday) ran a quick survey in collaboration with IRKHSSS to figure out the reasons for the low voter turnout and how we can improve on this new system and make it better in the future. We managed to get 155 respondents from Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences students.
- Lack of time and improper selection of date
A total of 48.4 percent of respondents felt the voting period is too limited and the election was held during the crucial week as students need to attend their online class and finish their assignment as the due is around. Students do not have enough time to exercise their votes as absence from classes due to voting cannot be excused. Students expressed that the dates for the election did not take into consideration the actual situation of students who need to keep track of the online classes and assignments.
Some even recommended that the election committee consider extending the voting hours and choose an appropriate date that will not burden the student, for example they proposed an election be held on weekend rather than on weekdays as students might make use of their free time to cast their votes.
- Unfamiliar candidates and unrealistic manifestos
A whopping 66.5 percent of respondents said their unfamiliarity with candidates was one of the reasons they declined to vote. The initiatives taken by the candidates running in this election are not enough and the approach was not comprehensive. The candidate may only be known among close friends, classmates, or those from the same department. Worse, as this election was held online, it had made it difficult for candidates to promote and introduce themselves to students. As such, those who are not familiar with the system – the majority are first-year students based on the survey – may not be familiar with the people they were expected to vote for. The lack of representation for international students as student leaders is also an issue that had been brought up on this topic.
Plus, respondents have brought up that candidates keep on promoting unrealistic manifestos with little to none actual improvement to the students. The manifestos that were brought up by the candidates for the election did not seem to achieve what the actual thing that students need but it only focused on what students want. Some respondents believe that the candidates cannot bring new improvement to the kulliyyah with the manifestos as we seem to be left behind from other kulliyyah’s student society.
As a piece of 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 in promotion and publication
Being under the umbrella of Humanities, 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 as everything was done virtually.
There was also a lack of promotion and awareness on the significance of voting for the IRKHSSS election, hence, the reason why most students opted not to vote. Furthermore, most students were not aware of the short campaigning period and the manifesto debate that was intended to increase voters’ turnout. From the survey, the respondents voiced out that they did not realise that the election was to be held and the details of the candidates that ran for the election also did not spread comprehensively.
The barrier that made the students not perform their responsibility to cast the vote was that because the message on the election was not reachable to all and students tend to overlook the message that was communicated in the group.
In short, promotion campaign on the election should have been done aggressively especially when there was 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 the manifestos.
- Complicated voting process
As we are still combating the COVID-19 pandemic, the election that was usually held physically at the kulliyyah building had changed to a new system which was an online voting system using a Google Form. The forms prepared by the election committee were spread to each secretariat to ensure that all students were able to vote.
To ease the election committee in filtering and counting the votes that were legal, a verification of the voters needed to be done before they proceeded to vote for the candidate, where the voter needed to take their own selfie together with their matric card. Around 28.4 percent of respondents agreed that this system was troublesome and complicated for them. Most of them refused to cast their votes the moment they needed to take a selfie to verify themselves.
Some questioned the purpose of taking a selfie with a matric card instead of taking the picture of a matric card only. The requirement that was made by the election committee was burdening the students as some of them did lose interest in voting because of the system. Unfortunately, some students who left their matric cards at mahallah expressed that they were disappointed as they could not be part of the election.
A better system should be proposed for the upcoming election to ensure that all students are able to cast their votes for the kulliyyah and the election committee should revise on the verification system that is simpler but at the same time effective.
Suggestions from Respondents
Referring to the previous election, it is important to note that the target for the present election set by the former President of IRKHSSS, Ika Danial, has been achieved with a significant 7.6 percent.
However, to further improve on voters’ turnout, it is important for us to listen to the major stakeholders themselves – our students – in expressing their thoughts and opinions.
- Involve all parties in the election
A total of 32.3 percent of respondents received no notice of the election with 20 percent have no knowledge on the process and system of the election. Advocacy from the election commission, candidates and secretariats were proven to not be enough to inform the larger public.
Students opined that since most of information were received from lecturers through the Remote Teaching and Learning (RTL) process, lecturers should be informed to remind the students on the importance of voting and to cast their votes.
The elected student representatives will be the mediator between the students, lecturers and administration.
Given the gravity of importance of a student representative, students should play their part to stay informed on the election and the foremost way the election commission should take is to inform and involve all parties so that the majority of students are informed especially the international students.
- System improvement
It is proven that students preferred the online election with 72.9 percent respondents voiced out their preference. Students will not have to waste time queueing and rushing in between classes to cast their votes.
However, to further increase the number of turnout, it is suggested for the election commission and IRKHSSS to have one website to cater for all information about the election, candidates, manifestos, vote casting and other related information.
It is suggested that matric number and personalised password should be used for each student to gain access to the website. In this way, the election commission need not have to verify all votes, it is automatic.
In this way, all students are able to receive the information in just one centralised platform to avoid over-saturation of information.
Even though it is a far-fetched solution, it is something to ponder on in the upcoming elections. Some notable suggestions include:
1. Increase political literacy among students for a period before the election.
2. Elongate campaigning and voting period.
As per what Abraham Lincoln had said, “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” It is important to note that while we have heard the opinions of the students, it is upon all of us to take the call and further improve the system not only for the elections, but also in other aspects for the betterment of the kulliyyah.
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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