From a 72.73 percent voter turnout in 2013, the succeeding University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE) saw the number decline to 62.05 in 2014, before hitting an all time low in recent years at 35.90 in 2015. Last year’s GE failure wasn’t the first of its kind. A plebiscite to change the USG Constitution failed in 2014, when only a measly 8.49 percent of Lasallians exercised their right to vote in what would have potentially overhauled the USG.
Remembering its pitfalls makes it easy to brush the USG off as passé. Some would say that it is past its prime, and has become nowhere as significant as it was pictured to be six years ago when it was first implemented and 13 years ago when it was first envisioned. But a whopping 91.7 percent of students surveyed still maintain that the USG is necessary for a whole host of reasons, and it is this that we remember as we enter yet another GE.
This year’s set of elected officers had only a little over two trimesters to implement the plans they had formulated at the start of their respective campaigns, weaving through a slew of impeachment cases, temporary restraining orders, and unconstitutional provisions in the Election Code, as well as structural and recurring issues that come with student representation. Nonetheless, a number of achievements were made, highlighted by the USG remaining at the forefront of the students’ plight in what was supposed to be a huge policy change for the University these past few weeks.
In such policy discussions, the USG plays a crucial role in ensuring that the stand of the student body is not only heard but also understood and taken into consideration in making decisions. This is what the USG should be: A champion of student representation, a bulwark of student rights, not the product of a long and harrowing GE that brings out the worst in many of the people involved. The USG should answer its true calling of being the representative body that fights for and with its constituents, and the proposal to revert to a five-day schedule allowed the USG to demonstrate its capability to remain true to its purpose and genuine in its intentions.
The principal question that confronts the next set of USG officers, then, is this: How will they maintain this budding trust and ensure that the students won’t lose their trust in the government again? Where the USG plays the prime role in the representation of the students’ rights, the students cannot afford wavering efforts from the USG and its potential elected leaders, especially not this early. The mudslinging and bad blood between parties we see now are not altogether unexpected, but they are disappointing nonetheless, and is a dismal indication of what kind of leadership to expect, undivided and student-centered or otherwise.
GE 2016 puts a heavy cross to bear for not only the USG, but also—and perhaps more importantly—the student body. Our leaders have the responsibility of delivering student-empowered governance and student representation, but we as a student body have the responsibility of ensuring the right people are put in the position to do that.