Yiyang Fang, first-year undergraduate at Sciences Po Le Havre, examines, “to the point of excessiveness”, the 2021 Year Rep elections. Kudos to all the candidates for their campaigns and remember to vote for your Year Rep!
Disclaimer: This is a piece of satire.
LE HAVRE — In the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, we are trained to think analytically, critically and scientifically about politics. The clue is in the name. Here, I shall attempt to employ those skills to examine, to the point of excessiveness, the latest Year Rep elections.
In alphabetical order of their first names, the candidates are: Chiara Montoya, Jiayi Qiu, Sevara Akramkhanova and Toan Oswald. It is my hope that none of them will sue me for libel.
Chiara appears to give off a down-to-earth, friendly, approachable, unfiltered and organic image.
It is no coincidence that she has chosen a green-coloured theme for her campaign materials and wore green during the General Assembly on Wednesday (November 10). It is a law in colour theory that green is associated with growth, harmony, openness and optimism.
Of all the candidates, it appears that she has the most grassroots-based approach. Her main policies — such as providing fresh fruits on campus — largely deal with working-class, bread-and-butter issues, and she is the only candidate who has circulated a Google Form for students to write in their propositions.
Green is also the colour of ecology; that is why environmentalist parties are called the Greens and that is why they use the colour green. Maybe that is also why most plants have chosen to be green. Unsurprisingly, Chiara has also promised to create a “warm and healthy workspace” through a meditation room and playing calming backdrop music in the main hallway.
She has also dabbled in some pork barrel tactics such as promising to install a kettle (full disclosure: I love fanciful coffee and a kettle does sound appealing. But I’m not sure who will take charge of descaling the kettle, which has to be done regularly because the water in France is very hard).
A great deal of her campaign is also dedicated to special interests — mindfulness and meditation, music, and tea-drinking. Since candidates are not required to disclose their business interests and sources of funding, it is unclear whether she has a hand in the deep pockets of the kitchen appliances, hot beverages, music and mental wellness lobbies.
Toan, on the other hand, has gone with a black theme. Black implies power, strength, stability, authority and sophistication. It is no coincidence that the major centre-right party in Germany, the CDU, has a black colourway, or that the men in black in Men in Black wear black, or that Professor Francios Dremeaux is always dressed in full black. It gives off a sense of authority, but without the aggression of red.
And it matches his campaign promises, which are administratively ambitious and detailed, ranging from Whatsapp groups to dinners with seminar tutors.
He has also made sure to appeal to the non-French voting bloc, such as by offering support to deal with important services unavailable in English like CAF and CROUS.
But the devil is in the details, or rather, the fact that there are details. One wonders whether the electorate would even read them. Out of touch with the everyday man, Toan forgets that Sciences Pistes are famously unable to hold their attention over any policy- or politics- related reading more than two sentences long.
Furthermore, he says his weakness is he does things too fast. That is correct, but he forgot to add that he talks too fast as well. I doubt anyone understood his speech in the General Assembly any more than they were able to follow Professor Gretchen Allen-Mastrallet’s lectures.
This might leave voters with no clear impression of him other than that he has a “passion for administration”. And this might put him vulnerable against the next candidate.
Jiayi, meanwhile, has gone with such a strong anti-establishment message that one wonders whether he is running merely because of some personal baggage against the Sciences Po administration.
The bright rouge of his campaign posts on Instagram provoke anger and intensity. His posts are filled with hyperbole and accusations. On Wednesday, while other candidates gave speeches, he conducted a rally, delivering a series of memorable punchlines: “The GP is here only two days a week, while I am sick five days a week”. “The only thing we have to fear is bureaucracy itself”. “Sciences Po has fallen short of my expectations.” And if we know one thing about populism, it is that it thrives on punchlines, slogans and disappointment.
Yet, while his campaign policies are less extensive than that of the other candidates, he makes up for this deficiency by taking pains to emphasise his credentials, which range from having conducted negotiations with the Chinese Embassy to a successful track record in enacting change in his previous school. Rather than wasting time promising to get things done, he shows that he is someone who has gotten things done — and this would likely appeal to voters looking for credibility and not just fantasies. He is a true populist, mobilising anti-establishment sentiments among the electorate by portraying himself as the one true candidate able to remove the world’s problems.
Sevara, meanwhile, has positioned herself as the candidate of the intelligentsia.
She promotes high-minded causes — cultural awareness, gender issues and safe spaces, for instance — using artistic posts on social media.
Like Toan, however, she may have misread the electorate. It is easier to mobilise voters by stirring up emotions than asking them to read a mini-essay. The cursive font of her Instagram posts does not help either.
She also tugs at the electorate’s heartstrings by evoking the fondness for childhood. This is clearly someone who has read Freud. She uses a photo from her childhood for one of her Instagram posts. Her speech at the General Assembly begins with a seesaw. She knows that her voters are at an age where they are entering adulthood and adjusting to a new environment. Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, but it remains to be seen whether voters will fall for this cheap trick.
So who will prevail? The centre-right elite, the centre-left one, the populist, or the Greens?
The election, in typical French style, is held in a two-round majoritarian format. This should incentivize candidates to appeal to the average voter instead of special interests, because should they reach the second round (and with four candidates, it is very likely we’d need a second round), they’d need the support of over half the student body (median voter theorem).
The two-round system is designed to encourage voter sincerity and reduce tactical voting. So, vote for the candidate you prefer most; if he or she loses, you still have a choice in the second round.
But no matter the outcome, it does seem safe to say that all four candidates are very capable people. So capable, in fact, that they scared one Zaheer Abbas into withdrawing his candidacy.