By Paddy Henry
“Another election” might have been the collective groan of the bulk of the student population when the candidates for the three full-time positions of President, Vice President Welfare and Equality Officer and Vice President Education Officer were announced.
Over the years, students have become increasingly disengaged in political discourse. A stagnation of the student vote had well and truly manifested itself as the norm. Gone were the days of a valid poll of anywhere near 3,000, as the university had once seen in bygone years.
Yet, this year, a spark was ignited somewhere, almost out of the blue, a spontaneous flame amid the embers of what once was student politics. Voters became reinvigorated.
The paltry turnout of 52 votes for the election of Kaushik Narasimhan as Gender and LGBT Rights Officer in November perhaps led to a unanimous feeling among political societies and activists alike that the democratic process on campus was verging on the shambolic. That being said, perhaps it paved the way for change.
A small tremor was felt last January when an impressive turnout of 887 students voted against the planned restructuring of the Students’ Union Executive. Only one polling station was opened on campus, such was the expected volume of turnout.
Seemingly re-energised, the elections for the Students’ Union Executive’s three highest offices would prove the true litmus test to whether the body politic had truly become engaged in student politics once more.
Early indications were good, with three more candidates running than the year prior, as murmurings on the concourse of continuity candidates and protest votes got louder and louder. There was a feeling that a groundswell of interest in the Union was about to manifest itself at the ballot box.
The almost pantomime-like hustings for Welfare and Equality Officer was the talk of the college. A battle of vitriolic barbs between two rival candidates was NUI Galway’s flavour of the month. While the world’s eyes were set on the spread of the coronavirus, NUI Galway students were fixated on the battle of Burke v Nic Lochlainn.
Two astute debaters going head to head added a genuine interest to all the races. It fostered a sense of fascination among even the most disaffected of the electorate and added spice to a consistently cuddly affair.
Early projections of turnout looked promising, and breaking the 3,000 mark looked like a real possibility at one point. Students queuing to vote at the library basement was as surprising as it was heart-warming.
A recorded turnout of 2,700, over 1,000 more than the year prior, and a feeling of genuine anticipation ahead of the announcement of who would assume office for the next academic year, left the cynics and critics bereft of side remarks about student apathy towards the democratic process.
Student politics has been brought back to life. It is alive and kicking and the recent election gives the impression it won’t be going away any time soon.