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What went wrong: Explaining the pitfalls of the plebiscite

For the third time in six academic years, the University Student Government (USG) opened a plebiscite to the students, proposing that changes, such as the number of elected officers and increased accountability of appointed officers, be made in the USG constitution. The voting period was originally slated during the first week of November, but a temporary restraining order was filed against it, postponing the voting until the last week of November.

Despite the delay and extensions, the USG was not only unsuccessful in persuading Lasallians to agree with making some changes in the constitution, but they were also unable to reach the required turnout to make the plebiscite valid.

 

voters' turnout - Infographic by Giselle Que 

 

Negative turnout

It was evident during the November voting periods that only a few Lasallians participated in the plebiscite. The USG had difficulty in attaining the required voter turnout of 50 percent plus one of the total student population to be considered valid. The required turnout was not met, resulting in a two-day voting extension. In the end, only 8.49 percent of the total student population, or approximately 1,400 students, participated in the plebiscite.

College of Liberal Arts President Vjohn Dizon thinks that majority of the students were not well informed of the plebiscite’s objective. “This (plebiscite) is something very new to the students now, unlike [the] General Elections (GE) or Freshmen Election (FE) that happens yearly,” Dizon reasons.

“It’s not the regular type of election activity, it’s a special type that students are not used to. Also, the structure of the USG may not be so ‘significant’ for the regular students,” shares Dean of Student Affairs Fritzie de Vera, shedding light on the probable reasons behind the low turnout.

 

Too many maybes

Political Science Professor Louie Montemar believes that Lasallians who vote during USG elections frequently are either bound by friendship or by affiliation to any of the two political parties at DLSU. Montemar adds that advocating for changes to be made to the existing USG constitution is more difficult than campaigning for a candidate.

“If you’re selling the constitution to either amend, reject, or accept it, I think it’s more difficult to sell because Lasallians will have to vote for or against an idea and as one may have observed in elections, discussions largely revolve around whom one will vote for rather than what cause will one support,” Montemar expounds.

“Maybe the students [who] voted in the plebiscite are the ones who have a direct stake if changes will be made to the constitution,” thinks Jillianne de Jesus (II, AB-OSDM), pointing out to the irrelevance of the plebiscite’s plights to the majority of Lasallians. On the other hand, Dizon defends that students participate in elections because they see the benefits of exercising their right. “For the past three years that I’ve been in the University, students vote because they see that they’re a part of something,” he furthers.

Montemar also observes that the USG was unable to clearly communicate the objective of the plebiscite to the students. The political science professor attests that the USG didn’t do enough to promote their plight and this resulted to the low voting turnout. “If I were not active in Facebook, I would not have heard of the issue. They’re (USG) changing the constitution or amending it because of very general reasons. I cannot identify if I were a student…They talk about certain words like transparency. Why? Is the student government not transparent?” Montemar challenges.

He also highlights the impediment caused by the existing voting culture among Lasallians. For Montemar, who has been observing the political environment at DLSU every FE and GE, Lasallians’ loyalty to their political parties is incomparable to their loyalty to the USG as a unit, if they do have any. Moreover, the political parties did not actively campaign for the objectives of the plebiscite as compared to how actively they campaign for candidates during elections season.

Regardless of the actual reasons that led to the failure of the plebiscite, Montemar, de Vera, and Dizon all share the sentiment that Lasallians should exercise their right to vote regardless of their motivations. The voter turnout of the plebiscite presents a need for the current political environment at DLSU to mature from the familiar politically-driven participation to a cause-driven one.

The existing USG constitution will continue to be upheld given the results of the plebiscite. Should the USG wish to open the constitution for amendments in the future, the proposed changes must first be approved by the students, again through a plebiscite.

By Paulyn Navarrete

By Lorenzo del Carmen

85 replies on “What went wrong: Explaining the pitfalls of the plebiscite”

One thing that was raelly wrong was not allowing people who want to abstain from exercising their right to vote. The ballot did not contain a choice for abstain. What if I liked the new Constitution, but something was missing?

Also, some USG Officers that I talked to mentioned that if I was going to vote abstain, then just don’t vote instead, because it’s the same. I’m sorry but it’s not. Not voting is not exercising my right and responsibility to vote, while voting abstain was letting me still exercise it. I never knew our own “representatives” would tell me to not exercise my right to vote. What the hell.

Hi Jay,

It is a running issue in contemporary politics on the exact difference between an abstention and a withheld vote – aka not voting. In vote counting systems of most democracies, abstentions are not counted to affect the final voting results per rules of majority. For example, if a board had two members voting yes, one voting against and two abstentions, the measure would still pass as it was a majority in quorum.

During the planning stages of the plebiscite implementation, we in fact based the ballot off several real-world plebiscites/referenda held in the past, particularly the recent Scottish Independence Referendum which only provided a yes or no. Other examples include the recent Egyptian, Syrian, Catalonian, and practically every other constitutional referendum held in history, none of which provided an option for abstention. You may refer to: http://bit.ly/1AUX9Lo for some ballot images for your peace of mind.

The ballot was presented as a dichotomous ultimata given that abstentions and no-votes would have the same effect as both would not practically contribute to the total turnout of the referenda count. I have to disagree with the notion that a no-vote connotes a lack of responsibility as the effect of a low-turnout is the same as a majority abstention. This provides you with the same message that you are satisfied with neither vote choice, or as you mentioned, “something was missing”

On topic, I personally do not view the plebiscite failure as an unfortunate occurrence, as a majority abstention from the student body merely means there was no practical or moral imperative for the student body to vote regarding a change in the USG’s current system – a principled disagreement between both options. The principle behind that is for you to decide.

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