A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Late last month, the Dutch government became the latest victim of the financial crisis, collapsing over an impasse on the passing of austerity measures. This means that in the early autumn, there’ll be a general election here, with all its attendant campaigning, leafleting, ‘knocking-up’ and, unfortunately, but almost inevitably, a lot of flag-waving xenophobic nationalism from some of the very-right-wing parties here. I’ll be leaving here in August, so thankfully, will miss out on most of the campaigning, and will escape election fever.
However, I wont have escaped entirely unlobbied. For at the moment, the Leiden University elections are taking place, and the pressure is on. Students form themselves into efficient campaigning machines, grouping together to instill the importance of voting into as many students as possible. At the law school at least, there is no discrimination. If you’re in the building, you’re fair game. Each time I walk through the doors, hands thrust flyers in my face, each a slightly more dull version than the previous. No amount of head-shaking or polite refusals can stop this tide. I have gotten into the habit of stuffing the adverts into my bag, but now, after a week of campaigning, I open my bag to see a mountain of electoral literature (in both Dutch and English, to ensure maximum coverage). In view of this, I’d wager that for every student election, an area of the rainforest the size of Zuid-Holland needs to be turned into glossy paper…
Perhaps to counter this, all the voting is carried out online. This is great, and a big step up from my undergrad, where lost ballots and unopenable ballot boxes caused chaos in many an election. And indeed, I cast my vote in about twenty seconds, just now actually. Simple. Being able to vote online can also prevent improper influence being exerted at the ballot box, I suppose. The drawback is, that with voting being such a quick and easy process, and with the end of polling fast approaching (it’s T minus 27 hours and counting) the armies of party activists who line the entrances to uni buildings have hit on a smart way to get the vote out – laptops, ready for voting, set up next to their stalking ground.
Since the days of being bought lunch to encourage me to vote for Oxford Union candidates back in 2006, being press-ganged into voting has been a big turn-off, especially if no food is offered. So when conversations go something like the one below, which I endured just minutes before finally casting my vote, I’m left looking around for any other party I can support in place of this one…
‘Have you voted?’
– I’ve got a flyer.
‘That’s not important.’
‘What’s important is that you vote.’
– But I leave in a couple of months.
‘That’s not important. We need your vote.’
– Who are you? Why your party?
‘Because then our party will have the most support for doing things with the university’
‘So you should vote’
– Oh ok.
‘You can do it now.’
– Can I do it later?
‘Yes but now is better so you don’t forget’
– Well I wont forget, I’m just heading to the library to do something actually important [note: revision, so this was almost true] so I’ll do it when I log in.
‘But we have the computer here’
– I have my laptop in my bag. Don’t worry, I’ll vote.
‘All we need is your username and password’
‘We will do the rest’
– I haven’t decided I’m voting for you yet
‘But it’s very very important’
– Great, well I’ll make sure I think about it hard then. Bye.
‘I’ll get the computer for you now’
At this point I walked off, opened my laptop, and voted for another party… Thankfully this will all be over tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll be prepared for the onslaught when the national elections come around. I’m hoping the professionals can give slightly better election patter!
I don’t get it? Why don’t they have rules explicitly discouraging this sort of thing? The Oxford Union has rules against candidates conveying potential voters to the ballot, and at Sheffield you’re not allowed to campaign within 5m of a public computer, or offer a voting platform (e.g. laptop, iPad) to anyone. Is there a specific rationale at Leiden to allow these sorts of behaviours (‘all democratic participation is important, even under duress’) or have things just not got so bad as to require stricter rules?
They may well have rules against it. But as you say, there are rules concerning elections at the Oxford Union that are routinely broken, or severely bent, in the name of a ‘good result’. It could well be that the law dept has more than its fair share of wannabe politicos willing to pressure people into voting for them. Then again, it could be that turnout has historically been so low that any participation is encouraged, with all being fair in love and voting. I should probably have done a little more background research to be honest, but was keen to get that epic pitch out whilst I could still remember it.