Internal elections expose rifts within freshly assembled student council

Nederlandse versie van dit artikel: Verkiezingen leggen tweespalt binnen studentenraad verder bloot 

For the newly elected members, the Student Council’s internal election of the President and vice president meeting was scheduled for Friday, May 14. Sasha Solau was elected as president and Jolien Lersberghe as vice president of the VUB’s Student Council for the academic year of 2021-2022.

By: Basile Van Weyenberg, Jade Pieters en Marit Galle
Image: Marit Galle

The student council election does not end with the first round of student voting. From the pool of twenty elected members, a president and vice president must firstly be selected, following which the other Student Council mandates are distributed. Only one person ran for president. The election of the vice president took a more tumultuous turn.

Seven of the twenty newly elected members already had a seat in the student council this year, and may therefore continue their mandate throughout the next academic year. This group of current Student Council members collectivised during the student council elections by name of the ‘VUB Old Foxes’, and also proposed the only candidate-president, Sasha. The new generation, however, was not to be underestimated. Inas Djelloul, for example,  received by far the most votes during the elections and immediately made a bid for the vice-presidency. In the end, however, it was her opposing candidate Jolien Lersberghe who was awarded the position.

President: Sasha ‘Solo’

Sasha Solau was the only person to stand for the position of president. During her candidacy, Sasha Solau mainly highlighted her experience. Over the past four years, she has held the positions of Brussels Coordinator and Innovation Coordinator, among others. This is not the first time she has stood for the presidency. Last year, Sasha lost out to current president Lisa Jongmans, but was more successful this time around. She could count on nineteen votes in favour, and one abstention.

The Student Council and other councils really need to become a point of contact
– Sasha Solau

As president, Sasha wants to focus on increasing the visibility of the Student Council and keep the students better informed about the policies pursued. In doing so, she wants to make more use of the program and faculty councils. “The Student Council and other councils really need to become a point of contact,” Solau said. She also wants to work on communication within the Student Council and the formalisation of its structures.

Next academic year, the Student Council still has some tough assignments. Solau indicates that blended learning, mental well-being and diversity are only a few of the topics the Student Council will have to address.

Vice President: Old (Foxes) vs (Re)Present

The election of the new vice president was more exciting. The ‘VUB Old Foxes’, the team of Student Council veterans, put forward experience as the decisive element in choosing between the two candidates. The tension between the old and new vice-presidents, and by extension between the candidates Jolien Lersberghe and Inas Djelloul, quickly became clear.

Jolien – nominated by the new president – already had a few years in the Student Council on her counter. That way she could rely on, among other things, her current mandate as coordinator of Student Services. Her extensive experience in and in-depth knowledge of the Student Council were her central campaigning points.

Fighting inequality is not activist, there are basic rights that I stand for. Minorities should always be listened to
– Inas Djelloul

Inas – a brand new, but no less committed member – could not appeal to seniority. Nevertheless, she assured the council that her lack of experience on the Student Council would not be a problem. Her commitment and experiences outside the Student Council would prove that she has the right competencies to be a good vice president. She said she does not underestimate the position and sustained that she could still easily build the required knowledge.

The election led to a fiery debate between the two candidates. Inas’ plea focused on inclusiveness and diversity. Djelloul refuted the claim that her activist style leaves too little room for compromise. “Fighting inequality is not activist, there are basic rights that I stand for. Minorities should always be listened to. It is close to my heart and that was also the reason for my candidacy,” Djelloul served as a rebuttal.

“Sometimes you have to go against established structures to be able to bring change,” she outlined. Djelloul would fill the role of vice president in a complementary way: “Sasha and I share a lot of values, but my voice would also be a dissenting voice in many areas, which I think is an added value.”

“Open and honest communication is an essential part of good governance”
– Jolien Lersberghe

Lersberghe envisioned her tenure as vice president as more of a supporting role vis-a-vis the president. She mainly emphasised the importance of communication, following Sasha’s argument. According to her, open and honest communication is essential for good governance, although she did not go into detail about how this would be implemented.

Eventually, Jolien Lersberghe walked away with the vice presidency position. Still, it should be noted that there was also much sympathy between the two candidates. Lersberghe: “I have a lot of respect for Inas. I hope we can complement each other’s strengths. I think she is a huge asset to the Student Council.” Djelloul also expressed her respect: “as Student Council, we have to help integrate the students together. Otherwise we won’t make it.”

An internationalising Student Council

As with the 2019-2020 elections, the meeting was supported by Dutch-to-English translators. This way, non-Dutch speaking members had no issues following the meeting. Unfortunately however, the translation of the ballot papers was overlooked. It is not yet clear what the meetings of the Student Council will look like in the future. Given the large number of non-Dutch speakers, the Student Council will have to allocate thought to this. In any case, it has become clear that the Student Council is internationalising. Building clear structures for this seems an important task for the incoming Student Council.

Unfortunately, the meeting came to an early end. After the extensive debate between Lersberghe and Djelloul, there was not enough time left to fill the remaining mandates. The interpreters had to leave at 5 p.m., and so the installation meeting ended prematurely. The continuation of the meeting is expected to take place in early July. See you then!


Correction (15/5/2021): In an earlier version of this article it was stated that seven of the twenty new Student Council members were re-elected. This is not the case; there were nine re-elected members. These members of the current Student Council collectivised under the name of the ‘VUB Old Foxes’, with exception of Lula Maris, who, together with three new candidates, founded the ‘VUB Represent’ collective.

It was also reported that this year was the first time there were translators present at the meeting. This is not the case; translators were also present at the 2019-2020 internal election. Noteworthy is the significant increase of international presence in the Student Council compared to previous years. Not one, but five of the twenty elected members are English-speaking.

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