Student elections are being held today at AUB, but I’ve decided not to go – for a couple of reasons. First, I’m recovering from the flu and am not crazy about getting out and about and risking a relapse of the nasty virus that’s been circulating. Second, the whole affair depresses me.
Last year, I manned one of the voting booths for a bit to get a better sense of how things worked, although one doesn’t learn much about the voting by sitting behind the ballot box. Later that evening, the two sides, each representing one of the two main Lebanese coalitions, lined up and taunted each other until the results were released, and then there was a brawl on Bliss Street, directly in front of the university, that brought in the campus security guards and the military, which was obviously untrained for riot control.
This year will be more of the same: national sectarian political parties using the campus and its students as a show of power. To my mind, this is just a symptom of Lebanon’s political woes, and frankly, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
There have been some independents, but there have also been all kinds of machinations in which parties bill themselves as independent just to throw their votes at the last minute to one of the coalitions. Maybe this is some progress, in that for some of the students, being independent is a selling point.
Otherwise, I floated an idea with 75 of my students last week, asking them who would support the administration if it told students that since they had obviously misunderstood the principle behind student representation, letting the elections turn into the mirror image of national politics in all its sectarian ugliness, student government would be banned. I was really surprised to see that around 60% of my students said they would support such a ban. While on the one hand, it’s comforting to know that many students are also fed up, or at least say they are, it’s disconcerting to me that despite fancying myself a democrat, I find myself in a position half wishing that elections would be canceled.
But here again, in my experience, AUB elections mirror those on the national level, because for all their complaining that student government doesn’t actually do anything and that they’re fed up with the sectarianism and political bickering, when it comes down to it, more than enough of them will go down and dutifully cast their ballots for one of the political factions.
Then, after the elections, what usually happens is that no one hears a word about student government again until next year, about a week before elections.