On November 28, 2019, the election for Hanyang University’s (HYU) Seoul campus Student Union (SU) president was in vain again due to a low voter turnout of 44.84%. The absence of a SU has been a hot potato ever since the last SU was formed on December 25, 2016. It has been more than three years since the Emergency Measures Committee (EMC), which is also known as a temporary SU, began taking on a lot of school jobs originally performed by the SU. However, it seems that the EMC has reached its limitation.
Last year, two teams - “Palettes” and “HY-ONE” - ran in the SU election. Each of them made several pledges that drew studentsʼ attention. While Palettes prioritized communication with the student community, HY-ONE emphasized the abolishment of the Female SU (FSU). Yet, the low voter turnout remained a problem and seemed to require an explanation. At ERICA Campus, a presidential candidate gave two caramels and a disposable hand warmer to every student who voted, in order to encourage students to vote. Regarding this, the main presidential candidate of Palettes, Lee Sang-yeob, responded, “I have read news that in addition to ERICA Campus, other universities in Seoul also used that sort of method to increase the turnout. However, in a democratic society, which I love, I firmly believe that such things should not happen. So, after learning this fact, I was surprised and upset about it. Instead of resorting to such methods, we need to ponder the hidden reason why students aren’t casting their votes.” A by-election is supposed to be held this March, but some students are worried that the next election might turn out to be the same and that there might be no candidates to run. Lee expressed his opinion on this matter - “This issue is a very sensitive topic. I haven’t yet decided if I will run for the by-election because the minor candidate of Palettes left our team.” In the meantime, some students criticized some of the pledges made by each team. In Palettes, the two candidates belonged to ROTC and were required to participate in military leadership training during the vacation. This would have led to them being unavailable to handle sudden issues and to start planning for the festival. In HY-ONE, the pledge about FSU, which they assumed would be a vote attractor, ironically backfired. They mishighlighted the reasons why the FSU shouldn’t exist, while they were supposed to highlight the facts that the FSU candidate in 2017 once proposed a pledge to abuse SU’s fund for women assembly to socialize and that in addition to ERICA Campus, other universities in Seoul already turned the FSU system into Student Right Committee (SRC) so that every student’s right can be fairly preserved. Yoo Ho-jun, an Alumni and the Director of policy for 2014’s FSU, explained, “I would suggest keeping the FSU system just in case there are any sensitive matters in the future. We have several associations that support sexual minorities and the disabled and that promote gender equality. They were divided because the other groups didnʼt take care of them. Plus, the FSU is very ambiguous right now, as they don’t have the EMC for the FSU, which is not the same as the SU.”
In addition to the pledges made by both teams, the latest SU and EMC were also criticized by some students. Kim Ji-soo, a Department of Industrial Engineering (ʼ14) major, explained, “The last SU in 2017, ‘Hanmadi’ (One word) was very impressive to me in terms of safety and equality. That made us reunite and reconsider problems that might occur.Still, it is pitiful that nowadays the SU is not the same as the SU back then. If it is not related to festivals or giving late night food for free, it is hard to recognize the presence of the SU. Even though they work hard for our community in terms of negotiating financial issues (e.g., tuition fees, supporting funds, scholarships) and educational issues (e.g., curriculum revisions, the survival of some majors), their work is hard to be noticed unless you are interested in the SU and follow up on their activities daily. Since most students don’t really feel the need to vote and think that voting is just a waste of their time, I just think to myself, ‘This might be the end of the SU era’. But I still believe that the SU is necessary within our community.” As the EMC hasn’t gotten much trust from students lately due to the continuous embezzlement, festival cancellation, and weak mediation related to the leaking by HYU of 352 students’ private information, the need for the SU has risen. But it seems the time of the SU is yet to come.
On January 13, 2020, the EMC proposed the idea of online voting, to enhance accessibility for some students who cannot vote due to their busy schedules. Statistically, the latest election participation was as follows: Department of Engineering 36.36%, Humanities 40.17%, Natural Science 40.89%. On the last day of voting, the average voter turnouts increased about 10%. After extending voting for one day due to low voter turnout, the voting rate increased about five percent. Despite this effort, the result was just 44.84%. Some people say the voting rate could have surpassed 50% if one more extension had happened for some departments with low voter turnout. However, Kang Ho-jung, a Representative of the Central Steering Committee, explained, “According to Para. 7 of Art. 61 of the SU law, ‘if the voter turnout is not over half within the dates designated by the Election Committee (EC), the period can be extended by the EC by only one day.’ So, it was hard to proceed.” On January 26, the EMC announced that the revision of the SU law for online voting had passed. They are now in the process of detailed planning and will be handed over to the EC, in order to add several articles to the EC law. However, they’ve encountered difficulties over concerns about system loopholes that might be exploited by hackers. Kang explained, “We deeply understand the worries students might feel, so we started investigating how to use the HYU server and portal website, as well as other firms and the National EC system.” In fact, Seoul National and Yonsei universities have had some issues regarding online voting, as they found code that might have been breached by hackers.
What Goes Around Comes Around
For this year’s by-election in March, the EMC is resorting to its last option in order to reach its goal, but it could also be a double-edged sword since it might harm the fairness of voting. If some brave candidates ever join the race, the pledges they make should be solid, especially regarding the festival, as most students generally perceive the SU as a “Festival maker,” not knowing what else they do exactly. Also, the presence of the FSU must be carefully considered. Pledges for minorities at HYU are urgently needed.
Jeon Jae-hyun Jjaehyun97@hanyang.ac.kr