By Alice Bello
Behind closed doors, secret talk of sponsors, quotas, and executive teams are occurring. Week 11 may be months away, but fear not, the preparations for the infamous “Campaign Week” have been underway for just as long. From April 13 to April 22, various electoral lists for Sciences Po’s four permanent bureaus – le Bureau des élèves (BDE), le Bureau des arts (BDA), l’Association sportive (AS), and Sciences Po environnement (SPE) – will compete to enter into the good graces of the student body.
Campaign week is not a free-for-all. Not only do these permanent associations have a constitution that is vaguely reminiscent of our first semester Political Institutions class, but there is even an “Associative Circular” that delineates all of the rules that the candidates must follow. A Campaign Committee is responsible for guaranteeing that the week goes on without a hitch. By Week 12, once voting is over, the Reims community will have four renewed bureaus, responsible for Sciences Po’s student life for the year to come.
At its core, Campaign Week is supposed to be a democratic and egalitarian process. The reality – or what I’ve observed of it thus far, as a first year student not running in a list – is just the opposite.
First of all, the concept is unjust to begin with. Indeed, at the beginning of the year, 1A students, or “babies” as they are called, were chosen by the permanent bureaus to shadow the 2As in charge. Often, these “babies” team up to form a list, using the training they’ve received over the course of the year to collect the votes of students. That being said, good on them for having put in the work for a year that now allows them to have an advantage over other lists.
The lists are perhaps the best proof of dishonest ways. Often, one or two people take it upon themselves to create a list. There begin the promises of being in the Executive branch once elected (President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary), of being “Head of Events”, etc. The chances that these promises will actually be kept, or that they haven’t been made to more than one person, are slim. The negotiations don’t stop there, despite there being quotas for Euro-American and Euro-African students in each list (at least 4 of each program in a list, with one or two in the Executive branch). It’s all about reaching a careful equilibrium of diversity that will allow you to amass as many votes as possible: you need Eurafs, Eurams, exchange students, internationals, people who are friends with the 2As, people who are well-liked, people who can throw a good party. They have it down to a science, which leaves one wondering whether competence is the true motor for composing a list.
Time is precious during Campaign Week. You have exactly 10 days to woo as many students as possible, which inevitably leads to a dash of bribery, although the farthest this has gone in the past is asking a list to do your dishes for you (though this practice has been banned as of this year). The Associate Circular states that by the end of Campaign Week, a list cannot have spent more than €1000 total, and that donations are limited to €500 per sponsor. Even though these sponsors must come from the Grand-Est region of France, there lies some inequality in this sponsorship process. Inevitably, some people might have family connections and benefit from a few cases of champagne. This is unfair, yes, but unavoidable.
I’ll be the first to admit that as an outsider, the element of secrecy around Campaign Week is vaguely entertaining. Rumors are swirling about bogus lists, about the departure of “babies” from such-and-such list. A Facebook “Yik Yak Campaign Week” page has even been created. However, these things only reinforce the caustic atmosphere that is building up around Campaign Week.
Perhaps that is the power of Sciences Po: despite the fact that we’re in the politician-producing school by definition, we still manage to evade the moral principles of politicking. Perhaps it’s in spite of this heavily political atmosphere that we find ourselves behaving like politicians. If anything, Sciences Po is teaching us that all political processes work in the same way: you do whatever you can to get ahead, even if that means sacrificing your integrity and betraying your moral values.
I’m not bashing the people in lists because to some extent, we voters will be just as bad. We will cast our vote depending on who organized the best party, who handed out free food (hint hint), and most importantly, on who managed to make us believe that they would reform their bureau’s entire modus operandi.
Why should this year be any different? Maybe there’s a reason why all elections end up looking like one another. Human beings are impressionable and (shocker!) self-serving. Let’s not delude ourselves about what this Campaign Week will look like. The lists will try to impress us, promises will be made, and the underdog list will either rise and conquer or stumble and fail. And that’s okay.
Who knows, perhaps this Campaign Week will bring forth a string of surprises. I can only hope that a list for the AS and for SPE will join forces for a night of homemade cider (beer) pong, or that a BDE and a BDA list will hand out cookies while blasting ABBA. Who wouldn’t vote for that?
Alice is a Parisian New Yorker or a New Yorkan (is that a word?) Parisianer (that’s probably not a word either) hoping to conquer the world of journalism one day. Interests include drinking coffee, reading the New York Times, and reading the New York Times while drinking coffee. The Parisian New Yorker runs the first Thursday of every month.