In Dongguk University, the percentage of the voter turnout of the GSC and the GCSC is barely over or under 50 percent for the last three years. (There was no GCSC in 2016.)
/Information sources by the General Representative Council
The by-election of the Preparing Committee for Graduation (PCG), the representative councils, and the student councils was held from March 27th to 29th. Recently, some elections of Dongguk University often have been canceled and resulted in the by-election due to low turnout and candidate’s absence. This situation is not limited to the problem of Dongguk University. Other universities, including Yonsei University and The Catholic University of Korea, are also struggling to form the student councils because of students’ lack of interest in the elections. The Dongguk Post investigated the reason why this phenomenon lasts and what is needed in order to improve the situation.
Voter turnout for election is barely over half the student body
Voter turnout has been generally about a half due to students’ indifference to the elections in Dongguk University in recent years. For instance, in the 2016 Student Council Election, the turnout of the General Student Council (GSC) recorded 52.58 percent. In the following year, 2017, the election of the GSC and the General Coed Student Council (GCSC) was foundered since the turnout stood 42.31 percent and 45.1 percent each. At the 2017 By-election, the turnout of the GSC was 52.63 percent and that of the GCSC was 56.64 percent. Moreover, in the 2018 Election, even though the voting period was extended for one day, the turnout was just over half the student body. As a result, the GSC “Turning Point” and the GCSC “Moving” were elected with turnout of 50.74 percent and 52.52 percent each. During the period, the student councils recognized the low voting participation and started to promote the importance of the election.
If the election is canceled, the Emergency Planning Committee (EPC) is responsible for all the work on behalf of the chairperson when there is no elected representative of council or committee. It has the same position and authority as the steering committee. However, it has only the right to speak and does not have the right to vote in official meetings. In other words, the EPC cannot directly reflect the opinion of students in the real decision-making processes in the general meeting.
During the 2018 election period, the 49th GSC “HIFIVE” encouraged Donggukians to vote by posting on their Facebook page and providing hot packs beside the polls. Also, Lee Kun-haeng, the Chairperson of the Student Council of the Department of Business Administration, explained the necessity of voting in a group chat for the department saying, “Please vote in the student council election. It is important to solve the problems in school; the student council negotiates the increase of tuition fees, scholarship issues, and facilities with the school.”
Other universities are in similar situation. The 2016 Student Council Election of Yonsei University was held but foundered since there were no candidates. After that, the by-election took place in March, 2017.
Even though it was given one more day, the final turnout was only 26.98 percent and the GSC was not formed again. To make matters worse, this year’s by-election foundered due to the absence of candidates. The EPC will take the role of the GSC for the second consecutive year. This is the first time in the history of the GSC of Yonsei University.
Only one candidate or no candidate runs for the election
Besides the low vote rate, there is often no candidate in the election. Even if someone runs for the election, it is usually a single candidate. In the 2018 Student Council Election, only one candidate appeared in the GSC, the GCSC and each college student council election: eight colleges including the College of Buddhist Studies, the College of Business Administration, and the College of Liberal Arts.
It also narrows the choices for candidates. If you do not prefer the single candidate, you may refuse or give up voting itself rather than voting against the candidate. Ju Su-min (Junior, Department of Business Administration) explained that she is more indifferent to the election when there is only one candidate, which makes it hard to compare with the other party. She mentioned, “In the case of single candidate, I am not sure whether the candidate is promising pledges just to prepare for the election nominally or he or she is really ready to work for the welfare of the school and Donggukians since they do not have any competitors.”
Several universities, such as Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul Women’s University, and The Catholic University of Korea, had no candidate for the Chairperson of the GSC last year. Even after the by-elections, they could not elect the student representatives due to the absence of candidates. Especially, in the case of The Catholic University of Korea, candidates did not come up for every unit in the 2018 election. Then, following by-election and re-voting were foundered on April 6th because of the low turnout.
One student of the College of Engineering is voting for the representatives of student organizations on the ninth floor of the Engineering Building 2 on the first day of the election.
/Photograph by Kim Min-ji
Some students refuse to participate in election
One reason for the students to reject participating in the election is that many candidates of the student councils make negative campaigns, in which they try to find faults of their opponents. During the 2017 Election, this happened. One of the candidates of the student council of the College of Social Science, “Counter Punch” party, was involved. During the electioneering period, the party presented a photo to point out their opponents’ attitude on demonstration against Lifelong Education College. Regarding this, someone questioned if the source of the photo was the school or not because it could be inferred that the party was receiving improper support from the school. However, the party refuted that they downloaded it from the Internet.
Such a confusing matter makes students think that political conflicts also exist in university campus and even feel repulsion about voting itself. Oh Dae-hyun (Junior, Department of International Trade) expressed his opinion saying, “I felt insensitive to the case of the ‘Counter Punch’ party since, in fact, such conflicts among the candidates occur in frequency during the period of the election.” He additionally commented, “I agree that some unpleasant situations caused by the negative campaigns by partial candidates do make students have an aversion to the politics in the campus. This is because students cannot believe that the people, who fight without any standard and consideration, would provide the members of the school with upright criteria and care even though they are elected as the student representatives.”
Students have difficulty finding meaning of joining student council
Furthermore, many university students think that there is no need to join the student councils and do activities as a student representative. They think they do not have enough time to volunteer for the students in campus. Instead, they try to look for study groups, outside activities, club activities, and some others, which can be helpful to improve their career. A Junior from the Department of Business Administration said, “I have never thought that I would like to run as a candidate in the student council. It will be too busy when I join the student council and work for other students since there are still lots of things to do for me now.”
Moreover, some students think that working as a student representative is not rewarding compared to the effort they put into it. Choi Eun-ji (Junior, Department of International Trade) mentioned, “I think the members of the student council are putting too much time and effort to do their expected tasks. However, I have seen them being criticized about their performance by many other students, so it would additionally increase their burden at the end.”
Posters of a single party is informing students about the candidate of the Student Council of the College of Engineering.
/Photograph by Hwang Hae-su
Giving students information can increase their interest in election
To improve the situation regarding lack of interest in student elections, a variety of measures need to be implemented. First, with regards to the student council, they can provide opportunities for students to learn about the roles of the student council departments to increase their interest. With this method, students would break away from their nagative awareness, which is usually negative and can become aware of the student council properly.
In the public hearing of last year election, the “Dongteum” party for the GCSC suggested implementing a student council simulation program. A possible solution was presented being aware of the fact that there are few programs to give information about the student council to students. The program included some education courses where students make up each type of student organizations: such as the GSC, the GCSC, the student councils of each college, and the board of representatives. Then, the students can discuss the problems that can occur in the campus, aiming to run in the Freshmen Orientation.
Regarding this method, Kang Hyeon-ju, the Vice Chairperson of the GCSC, commented, “There are only little information about how the elections in university proceed, whom to vote for, whether students themselves can join the election, and with whom the student council is consisted of. I think the student council simulation program would contribute to activate elections in the campus since it will let students experience the student councils and help to understand them.” She also explained, “Although there has not been enough discussion of the program after the public hearing session, I believe it would be possible for the GCSC to suggest such program in the general meeting. Furthermore, what is needed is that the student councils of each college should actively push ahead in order to make the program actually be operating with the students.”
Increasing accessibility can help to increase a turnout
In the case of Chonbuk National University, they introduced an online voting system in the student council election for the first time. With the new system, students can easily vote on the candidates with their smartphones anywhere and anytime. It can increase the accuracy in counting the votes. After changing the election system, the voting rate of Chonbuk National University increased from 54.61 percent in 2016 to 81.91 percent in 2017, a number that had never been reached before.
Song Wan-sang, the action officer of the Office of Student Affairs in Chonbuk National University, commented, “By introducing the online voting system to the student council election, students could join the vote everywhere and anytime so that it led the turnout increase dramatically about 28 percent point. The students also could easily take a look at the pledges each candidate presented by receiving messages explaining its contents.” He added, “The selected student representatives could have more confidence because they were selected with quite a lot of students’ support. Therefore, we are going to use this system to the by-elections of the student councils of three colleges thanks to the students’ positive reactions.”
Recently, it is prevalent that student elections often foundered and have by-elections because of its low turnout and lack of candidates. Even worse, sometimes, the by-elections are nullified so that certain units of student organizations are managed by the EPC. However, it is not the best way to operate the organizations since it cannot reflect the ordinary students’ opinion. Improving the election culture can make more satisfying university society. If so, the voting rate and the participation in the student council activities will increase, as well.
Kim Jung-do, the Chairperson of the GSC, mentioned, “In order to improve participation in the elections on the campus, long-term businesses should be established rather than short-term ones. In other words, the student councils should accumulate trust with students with proper welfare policies and transparency.” He also said, “Moreover, the role of the GRC is also quite important. By keeping the student councils in check accurately, they would be operated in a better way.”
Kim Min-ji, Hwang Hae-su firstname.lastname@example.org
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