It was always difficult to persuade students to vote; in recent years, the turnout was around 30 per cent. Chairpersons of the student parties feel that, as campaigning can only be carried out online now, it won’t be any easier. “Now more than ever, we will have to depend on friends of friends,” says Kim Sweerts, chairperson of Shape. “If I call someone, I always briefly mention the elections,” says Dirk van Esser from Dope. “But not being able to speak to students directly is a huge loss.”
“It is easier to convince someone when you speak with them face-to-face,” says Ezekiel Stevens from the KAN Party, the political branch of the Climate Action Network. Certainly if you are a new party, like KAN. “People know Dope and Novum, but not us yet.” “A lot depends on the people who already follow your Facebook page or Instagram account,” Sangavi Sivananthan, chairperson of Novum agrees. She also fears that the large group of students who aren’t actively involved in the representative system, won’t be reached.
The university has offered candidates extra possibilities to campaign. For example, there will be links to all party websites on the Student Portal and a professional video can be made in which the parties can explain what they stand for. Money has also been made available to pay for Facebook and Instagram advertisements. Much to Novum’s relief, which had just ordered all the regular campaign material – flyers, stickers, banners – before the virus outbreak. “So our campaign budget was spent,” says Sivananthan.
But here too, there is a difference between old and new parties. “We are not officially registered as a party, so the contribution from the university has also been delayed,” says Stevens from the KAN Party. “I check the bank account every day to see if it has been deposited. Fortunately, our umbrella organisation is a foundation, so there was some money available.” That is not a luxury that United Students Maastricht (USM) have, who are facing the same problem. “The registration procedure has been delayed, and so are our funds,” says chairperson Moritz Takacs.
In addition to the online advertisements, parties are trying to attract attention in other ways. From self-made video clips of all candidates to enrolling the help of ambassadors who are not partaking in the elections but who want to promote the party within their circle of friends. USM would have liked to have had an online debate. “But some parties were not up for that,” says Takacs. “That is a pity, now every party is doing more or less the same thing. While we don’t want to spam students with posts and e-mails.” USM is looking for alternatives. “We have already held a question-and-answer session, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm for it. Just before the elections, we will try something new, I don’t want to say what, as the other parties might then also do the same.”
Dope and Novum are paying extra attention to their posts. At Novum, the candidates even followed training in online campaigning. “For example, we wrote really long posts, because we had so much to say,” says Sivananthan. “But that doesn’t work, you have to divide it up. We also tried to do everything ourselves as the board, now we allow the candidates to use their own creativity much more and we check whether it meets our quality requirements. It was extremely useful, afterwards the candidates were full of enthusiasm again.”