Posted on: April 19, 2021 Posted by: Musa Ali Chaudhry Comments: 0

By Musa Ali Chaudhry ’24

As the student council elections are fast approaching, an interesting phenomenon is taking place this year on the LUMS Discussion Forum (LDF) and other similar platforms: with in-person lobbying ceasing to be an option, candidates have taken to these online forums and chat rooms as their primary mode of communication and information dispersal. Due to this, freshman candidates specifically have experienced a mixed reaction — while they have received much support from their peers, many of their seniors have posted memes and jokes about how these candidates are making sweeping promises without having experienced the “actual” university life. Though this subtle gatekeeping with regards to campus experiences can be dismissed as friendly banter, the situation begs an important question: just how much has the online system affected the student council electoral process for freshman candidates?

 

Maida Tahir ‘21 is a senior batch representative who was elected in the student council through the sophomore female reserve seat and has since helped bring about several crucial changes on campus, especially regarding mental health and anti-harassment policies. She believes that freshman candidates this year are expected to deal with outreach more carefully and maturely than in previous years. “People should know that it’s going to be a lot harder; you can’t just sit ten people in one dorm room to get votes, instead you will be writing long texts and posts, and all of the material will be out there for people to read and judge. People could often exaggerate promises, but this time they have to be a lot more careful with what they’re saying and what they’re putting in their manifestos,” says Tahir.

Online vs offline campaigning: How are candidates communicating differently?

This hints at another important point: are hostelite candidates at an advantage during this campaign, considering that they have access to “easier” campaigning due to them being on-campus? Balach Nawaz ‘25, an NOP student from the Panjgur district in Balochistan and a candidate for the freshmen general seat, believes so — but only to an extent. “I was able to meet some students in-person, but wouldn’t say there was a 100% advantage,” he says. 

“The situation is very different this time, candidates are mostly working alone and it becomes difficult to handle campaigning alongside balancing one’s studies. I’m reaching out to people through LDF and WhatsApp, but of course, people are not always willing to vote for someone they have never met.”

Rafay Hakeem ‘24 is another freshman running for the general seat. Hakeem has often cited the issues him and his peers experienced in the LUMS hostels as a major point in his manifesto, and one that he hopes to fix. “I saw that some beds are broken, some windows are broken, and worst of all, there is a mice infestation inside some of the hostels… after a while, it became normal to see mice in the hallways, in someone’s room, in a dustbin, and in the kitchen sinks,” he says.

However, though the hostel experience helped Hakeem understand certain issues better, he does not believe it helped him gain a significant advantage in terms of outreach. During our interview, he talked about the importance of complying with SOPs, and how that meant that he could not engage in the traditional mode of door-to-door campaigning.

As such, it appears that a key area of concern during this election is maintaining effective communications. Injeel Abdul Aziz ‘24 is a candidate for the freshman female reserve general seat who believes that a constant back-and-forth is necessary between candidates and the general student body. According to what she learned after conversing with senior council members, both hostelite and non-hostelite candidates have gotten matching feedback this year, though it differs from the feedback that candidates in past years got — which makes sense, as LUMS is operating differently under COVID. “If you ask, people will tell you, because people want to be heard,” says Abdul Aziz, “maybe if I was a hostelite, I would have experienced [the issues I learned about] better, but I understood them all the same.”

Tahir believes that proper communications is more than just getting feedback during campaigns, and more candidates need to make note of what can be done to improve communications with the administration and the student body in an online setting. “I know a lot of the campaigns include vaccine drives and steps to reopen campus, but they also need to consider how they are going to implement their policies and convince the administration, considering how much communications have been affected,” she says, “there is a common misconception that the council is only involved in huge projects, but in reality, much of our work is an amalgamation of everyday things — meetings, disciplinary committee cases, MBM staff welfare tasks — all of which require effective communications.”

The social image of women candidates

Lastly, there is another important issue that is seeing a change this year: women candidates having to alter their social image to appease to the general student body. Tahir explained how women candidates are often reduced to their physicality, not just during their campaign, but even after their elections. “People would tell me to my face that my looks were the reason that I won,” she says, “this is problematic, because often I would be having a serious talk about my manifesto points, that I worked on just as hard as anyone else, but people would only comment on my looks or the way I talk… many of my fellow council members have had the same experience too.”

According to Tahir, this issue has become so normalised within the culture of the elections that women candidates are expected to just “deal with it.” However, she believes that a shift towards the online system may actually lead towards a better future, one where this issue is not as prevalent. “There is more of a focus on what people are saying this time…the fun politics have been replaced by proper discussions of important points,” she says, “this, plus the fact that we are seeing more representation this year [with female EC and president candidates], is helpful for the female candidates. People know that if you’re here, you’re here to be taken seriously.”

Tahir’s claim appears to be highly accurate: freshman women candidates this year claim to not have felt overtly discriminated against. According to Aziz, the Me Too movement and the harassment committee has helped amplify women’s voices, and the student body is aware of the repercussions of inappropriately commenting on women’s image to distort opinions. She also points how it is beneficial that there is a more open discourse regarding such topics now, which is true — harassment, male lobbying, and the toxicity of the elections were all discussed during the freshman general debates this year. Rija Abdul Rabb ‘24 is standing for the non-SSE freshman reverse seat, and shares these sentiments: “I did not alter my social perception one bit. In fact, from all the feedback I have received from people I have interacted with… they like how my campaign has been very close to a mirror image of my personality.”

That said, the elections are still far from egalitarian. Rabb pointed out how there is, and always has been, a mistrust in women candidates, which is exemplified by the lack of women presidents; she also noted that the ease with which men have formed alliances and lobbies can not be overlooked. Similarly, Aziz claims that just discussing and being aware of such issues is not enough — she believes that it is difficult to know if these topics being brought up during the election debates was more than just virtue signalling. “Things have gotten a lot better,” Aziz says, “but we still have a long way to go”.

Freshman candidates this year are undoubtedly experiencing the elections in an entirely new way. There has been an increased emphasis on the content of their manifestos and speeches, new challenges with regards to communication and outreach have cropped up, the playing field has shifted in terms of hostelite experiences, and perhaps most significantly, the position of women candidates is potentially seeing some much-needed improvements this time around. As such, it is important for candidates to apply the valuable advice of senior council members, while keeping in mind that uniqueness and unpredictability of their situation.

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