ON LAST May 2, Yitda was finally elected as the 27th Women Students’ Union after getting its original election invalidated due to problems that allegedly damaged the election’s legitimacy and fairness. Although the ultimate election results are finally out, the heated debate surrounding the election has not been completely settled. Controversies surrounding this election is very bad news for the Yonsei student society because this is not the first time a general election went wrong; the 53rd Students’ Union election that took place last semester was close to a halt due to similar reasons that stigmatized the election. This election, which created much tumult in the Yonsei student society, unfortunately marked a new bottom for Yonsei’s democracy.
How did it go wrong?
The first step in examining the issue should start from clarifying why the election was cancelled. There were many administrative errors during the voting period, such as late notification of voting districts and wrongful use of the voting stamp, which led to invalidation of some votes. Although the Central Election Committee (CEC) and the election headquarters explained that these were simply mistakes caused by the inexperience of those who were in charge, they were criticized for damaging the procedural justice of the election.
However, these were only minor problems compared to issues which arose concerning the fairness of the election. Firstly, the extension of the voting period was suspected to be a result of arbitrarily interpreting the election rules for the headquarters’ advantage. Although the vote was supposed to be held for three days, it actually lasted for six. The CEC explained that it can extend the period if voting districts in colleges that have not been properly operated. However, according to the Facebook page arguing against the election of the Yitda headquarters, the CEC abused the rule regarding the extension. The page argues that the CEC initially set only central polling sites as the default voting district, probably in order to later claim that the vote was not executed properly in individual colleges. This, on the page’s opinion, was the main excuse for extending the voting period.
There was also criticism that the CEC and the headquarters overly pressurized students to vote. For example, according to the article issued on The Yonsei Chunchu on April 18, witnesses testified that people in charge of voting districts approached female students passing by and urged them to vote. Such actions were severely criticized by many student community websites, such as Seiyon.net and Everytime. Many argued that as there was only one candidate in the election, urging students excessively to vote could be perceived as urging them to vote in favor of the candidate.
Nevertheless, the biggest problem occurred after the election was over. A scandal that took place after the ballot tally became the decisive reason for the invalidation of Yitda’s election. A few members of the Yitda headquarters (including the presidential candidate) and the head of the CEC had a drink together during the objection period, which was later suspected of violating the election’s impartiality. The head of the CEC protested that the meeting, which according to him and other participants was only a part of a regular seminar, could not make any difference to the election result because the headquarters had already been elected. Nonetheless, the Central Management Committee (CMC) members agreed that the meeting had violated fairness, considering that the CEC was entirely in charge of making changes to the election result during the objection period, and thus decided to invalidate the election of Yitda.
After the election had been cancelled, Yitda demanded that the invalidation be thoroughly reconsidered. They argued that the issues mentioned above are not enough to nullify the election result. Firstly, they argued that the meeting between Yitda and the CEC during the objection period could not influence the election result because the headquarters had already been elected. Secondly, they claimed that the violation of certain rules was simply a mistake caused by the CEC’s lack of experience. Third, they said that to not encourage students to vote would be to abandon its responsibility as an election headquarters. Lastly, they pointed out that they were not given any chance to vindicate themselves before the invalidation; the CEC and CMC invalidated the election without listening to the headquarters’ explanation. As a response to Yitda’s objection, the CMC decided to cancel the invalidation and discuss the entire issue again. And finally on May 2, the CMC notified the election of Yitda as the 27th Women Students’ Union.
Reversed decisions, disillusioned students
The repeated flip-flop of the election result made this election a rare political show. After the election had been invalidated, two additional changes were made in two weeks. Thus, students witnessed the CEC and CMC changing their decision four times in a single month: election, invalidation, reconsideration of invalidation, and final decision to validate the election. Although there were many fairness and procedural issues that made the whole process of the election very complicated, students were highly disappointed by the representatives’ changing the election result so easily.
Yonseians who have been watching the election from the very start until the end pointed out the irresponsibility of those in charge. Jeon Ye-hyun (Soph., Dept. of Public Administration) said: “I think the repeated change in results came from the CEC and CMC’s irresponsibility and inadequate control of the situation. I believe that the CMC and CEC were irresponsible in their decision to invalidate the election; they were much too judgmental to conclude that fairness was violated just because there was a case of contact between the headquarters and the head of the CEC. In the transcript of the CMC meetings, I could not find anyone giving legitimate grounds for the invalidation.” She added, “To me, they seemed to have invalidated the election without careful consideration in order to wrap up this issue quickly.”
Woo In-gi (Fresh., College of Communication) had different thoughts. “I couldn’t understand the CEC’s final decision that the private contact between the headquarters and CEC’s head actually had not damaged fairness of the election. It is obvious that the two stakeholders’ meeting in private before the objection period was over broke impartiality.” He continued, “I think that the CEC and CMC lost students’ faith by reversing such an important decision so easily. It’s unacceptable how they simply changed their minds in just a few days, when the decision to invalidate the election should have been made after more serious discussions.”
Park E-Noch (Jr., Dept. of Sociology) also expressed his view towards the reversal issue as a member of the former Yitda headquarters. “I think that the CEC and CMC made a huge mistake in invalidating the election. They were remiss in verifying whether the private meeting was truly an election fraud. I am very disappointed about how the CMC decided to invalidate the election of the Women Students’ Union so easily, when it would mean that there would be no organization to handle minority and sex crime issues on campus for an entire year.”
Aiming for true democracy
It is a disheartening fact that this is not the first time for a big election to go wrong in Yonsei. Just a few months ago, the Students’ Union election almost came to a halt when the head of the CEC suddenly resigned after being suspected of acting in favor of a particular election headquarters. There were also suspected frauds during individual college elections, recent examples including the College of Liberal Arts and the Global Leadership Division. Why are such disgraceful events continuously happening? There may be many reasons, but students mainly point to two things: irresponsibility of those in charge and indifference of the general student body.
Irresponsibility of the ones in charge of administrating the election was pointed out as the main reason that the elections kept going wrong. Jeon said, “Most of all, the CEC was not careful to abide by the election rules. I think this is part of a lame-duck phenomenon because during the general election period, only the ones who are not preparing for the next election remain as members of the CEC. Because they are almost at the end of their term, they can easily become lax with their duties.” In order to solve this problem, she suggested that “the election rules become clearer with no room for arbitrary interpretation, and punishment on the CEC’s wrongdoings become more specific and stringent.” In fact, Jeon Yun (Soph., Dept. of Theology), as a member of the CEC who was involved in this election, explained, “In order to prevent any more mistakes, proper education of election rules for the next CEC members will become mandatory. Also, present CEC members will be restricted from participating in the next CEC.”
Although many suggest policy changes as the quickest way to solve the chronic problem, there was also an advice on the representatives’ basic attitude. Park said, “I hope the representatives would always keep in mind that they are not the boss. I believe trust can start from attending to the very bottom. I would be very happy as part of the Yonsei student society if the representatives always concentrated on the voices of the minority, and confronted discrimination and oppression issues.”
There were also comments regarding students’ overall apathy towards the elections on campus. Woo said, “I think elections keep going wrong because only particular students actually care about them. In order to recover trust in student representatives, more students should show interest in school issues and voice their opinions. I hope there would be more opportunities for students to know what’s happening on campus and easily communicate with the representatives.”
* * *
Although the controversy now seems to be almost over, questions still remain. The student representatives have once again disappointed Yonsei students by causing numerous troubles that severely undermined their credibility. In order to promote true democracy on campus, it is crucial that Yonsei student society actively reflect on the lessons that can be learned from this unprecedented political scandal.