Student party KAN: “Major electoral malpractice during UM election debate”

Student party KAN: “Major electoral malpractice during UM election debate”

Polling committee denies manipulation of the elections

24-04-2024 · News

MAASTRICHT. According to student party KAN (Klimaat Actie Netwerk, or Climate Action Network), there was “major electoral malpractice” during the UM election debate last Friday. A board member of competing party NovUM supposedly had great influence behind the scenes, KAN writes in an open letter. The central elections office regrets the “appearance of a conflict of interest,” but reckons that the elections were not manipulated.

In the run-up to the university elections this week (22-25 April) – the debate was streamed on Maastricht University’s YouTube channel last Friday, but was recorded more than a week before, on 10 April. Candidates from the four student parties who are competing for seats on the University Council were grilled by moderator Adina Petre, supported via an earpiece by “a team behind the scenes”. 

And it is the latter that KAN has a problem with, because this ‘team’ allegedly consisted of only one person, who is also a board member of NovUM and a candidate for the University Council on behalf of that party. Not only is this student reportedly “involved in the production of the debate”, but also had an “autonomous influence on speaking times, questions asked and topics chosen” as well as determining for the moderator when a speaker should be interrupted. Moreover, KAN thinks that it is “plausible” that this person informed fellow party members of the debate topics beforehand, while the other participants were only told about them twenty minutes before the start of the debate. In short, the three other parties, including KAN, were put at a disadvantage.

Dangerous precedent

In the open letter to UM, the party speaks of an “infringement of democratic practices” and “one of the gravest incidents of election malpractice” that they have experienced since its founding in 2019. “How could the university and the elections office overlook such an obvious conflict of interest? And what does it say about NovUM that they deem this to be an appropriate practice during election? (...) Leaving incidents like this without consequences for the parties that have violated the code of conduct sets a dangerous precedent.”

The fact that the party only made the letter public a few hours before the debate was streamed – so more than a week after its recording and shortly before the elections – on Instagram, was because “we needed time to establish an overview of the situation and to verify this” and “we wanted to draft the letter very carefully,” said KAN chairperson Johanna Firley.

No influence

In a phone call, Niels Harteman, secretary of the central elections office, states that he finds the qualification “election fraud” exaggerated. “I would only use that term if, for example, votes had been tampered with.” Upon inquiry to the department of Marketing and Communication (who organised the debate commissioned by the elections office, “we don’t get involved in the form and content”), Harteman does acknowledge that a NovUM member was involved behind the scenes. “Proper agreements were made with NovUM about this and as far as we know, this person did not play a role in the selection of questions or topics. Having rewatched the debate, we do not have the impression that this person influenced the debate. And hence not the elections either.”

Harteman admits that “it would have been more appropriate not to include this person in the organising team, to prevent the suggestion of a conflict of interest or influencing. We will pass on to the organisers that they should not do this again in the future, and for the elections office to check this more thoroughly.”

The NovUM board was unavailable for comments at the beginning of this week.

Photo: still from the election debate, taken from UM's Youtube channel

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: Elections,Debate,KAN,Novum,Fraud

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