Only 35.9 percent of the undergraduate population or 5,689 students voted in this year’s University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE), according to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) after what was arguably one of the most controversial elections in recent history.
Despite calling for a two-day extension in the voting period, only a dismal 519 students went to the poll booths last March 23 and 24 to exercise their right to vote.
Consequently, the low turnout means that none of the candidates running for an Executive Board position were able to reach the minimum required vote, which is 50 percent +1 of the undergraduate student population. As of press time, COMELEC has yet to complete the canvassing of ballots and confirm which college government and batch government candidates were able to meet the minimum vote requirement.
Last February, The LaSallian conducted a survey asking students if they intend on voting come election season, and the results showed that only 35 percent planned on doing so, 29 percent planned not to vote at all, and the remaining 36 percent were undecided at the time. Surprisingly, the results of the survey foreshadowed a potential failure of elections.
A disaster in the making
As early as the campaign week, issues regarding the GE began surfacing, which may have affected the perception of the general populace on the elections.
Last March 6, issues on the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a signed document stipulating the agreed upon terms of the election, were first brought to light when Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat) filed a petition calling for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to be imposed on it. According to their petition, COMELEC permitted late submissions of the Certificates of Candidacy (COC) when the MOA explicitly states that they should no longer be entertained.
Despite the request being denied by the Judiciary, a brief lull period was declared by COMELEC in hopes of remedying the situation with all the parties involved. On March 12, the commission decided to overturn their previous decision and immediately declare all candidates with incomplete or late requirements as ineligible to run. As a result, almost half of the seats in the USG were left vacant and more than 100 candidates were unable to run for office.
Further, this left Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) with no candidates eligible to run for any positions. Hoping to remedy the situation, the party immediately filed two petitions requesting that either COMELEC respect their previous decision, or a reset of elections be undertaken. The Judiciary later rejected both petitions on the grounds that COMELEC had valid grounds to make their decision.
Because of the possibility of a failure of elections after COMELEC’s decision to nullify the eligibility of several candidates, contingency measures have been taken into consideration as early as the campaign period.
Chief Legislator Patrick Kahn shares that they are currently working on having special elections held as soon as possible. “It is an exigent circumstance which must be acted upon in order to uphold the student body’s rights to suffrage and representation,” he explains.
However, not everyone is in favor of having earlier elections. Tapat President Robbie Arcadio shares that their party would prefer to have reelections based on what is stipulated in the Election Code, which is first term next year.
As stated in the Election Code, reelections must be held within the first four weeks of the following academic year to fill the vacant seats. However, Kahn explains that having elections at that time would cause a dilemma as appointments for the next set of commissioners cannot take place if the number of Legislative Assembly (LA) representatives is insufficient first term next year.
According to Article XIX, Section 2 and 3 of the USG Constitution, the LA is in charge of determining the qualifications, appointment, and approval of commissioners. With majority of the seats in the legislative body presently vacant, it is unlikely that they can carry out this function.
Ready for round two?
Talks have been conducted between the parties in the MOA, and as of present, they have agreed to hold special elections this term, provided that certain conditions were met. In their agreement, all vice deans must consent to having another round of room-to-room campaigning, all polling booths should be available during the voting period, and that stronger manpower carry out the operations.
In terms of shouldering the costs, Kahn states that COMELEC has already made a request for funds to be appropriated, and that the LA only has to approve the request. “We are confident in their logistical capability to pull the election off given proper planning, and University Administration has committed their support in assisting the commission,” he furthers.
In terms of the students’ willingness to vote again, Kahn hopes that the urgency of the matter “will trickle down to every Lasallian” as this will affect student representation. “The urgency is of transcendental importance, and we must, and will act to prevent this situation,” he declares.
On the other hand, COMELEC Chairperson Aaron Quidilla asserts that the student body should be more aware of the responsibilities that come with their rights. “I’m just hoping that students would realize how powerful their vote is, and hopefully, if ever we have another elections, they won’t neglect that power,” he says.
As of press time, Santugon could not be reached for a statement on the matter.