By Joan Ang (17A01B), Marilyn Kang (17A01B) and Abdul Qayyum (17A01B), Additional Reporting by Ernest Lee (17A01A), Photos by Lau Yun Xi (17S03E), Teh Wenqi (17S06P) and Amelia Chong (17S07A)
If you came down to school from the 1st to 3rd of June, you might have heard the orchestra of high-heeled shoes clacking upon concrete ground mixed with the sound of formal chatter fill the empty halls. Later, you might have observed an overwhelming crowd of young men and women clothed in prim and proper formal attire, poised and ready to engage in the intellectual and political version of the Olympics — or maybe at least a model version of it. The truth is this: students from secondary schools across the country were flocking to Raffles Institution to roleplay important political figures and delegates of the United Nations in the Raffles Model United Nations (RMUN), hosted by the History and Strategic Affairs Society (HSTA).
The Opening Ceremony held on Wednesday morning began with a speech by the Guest-of-Honour, Prof Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Law. Beginning with the question, “what is the United Nations?”, he explored the complexity of the United Nations’ role in the global sphere. This led to an enlightening speech on the question of “Leadership in the UN and the Selection of the Next Secretary-General”.
While some of the beginner delegates found Prof Chesterman’s speech somewhat inaccessible, it was clear that he was very knowledgeable about the subject matter, and many agreed that it was quite an enriching talk. His speech was followed by a Q&A session, and finally, RMUN was officially opened by Secretary-General Sai Suman (16S06P) after a short speech.
Promoted as a conference for beginners, RMUN sought to educate its participants on the complexity of the issues raised during councils, of which RMUN had eleven. This year, RMUN gave delegates the ability to choose which council they would like to attend according to their own abilities and experiences.
Councils such as ECOSOC catered to beginner delegates, while the most experienced were advised to try the Historical Crisis Council. Many delegates felt that this was a better move, as the Councils were hence catered to their levels of ability and experience, and was thus more balanced overall.
Council debate took place ever the course of three days, consisting of eight three-hour-long sessions. During sessions, delegates were expected to try and understand the complexity of the issues that they were discussing, including problems such as the spillover effects of the Syrian War, the Boko Haram crisis and the issue of the Gaza Strip. Delegates were expected not only to be able to present their respective countries’ stances on the issues in question, but also to lobby for the support of other delegates, and write resolutions in order to come to a consensus on the situation at hand.
Despite the seriousness of the occasion, however, delegates were still able to stay lighthearted, with one delegate quipping in his Plenary Crisis opening speech, “I love green tea, black tea, but above all, Syrian sovereign-tea,” cueing groans throughout the lecture theatre.
Given that RMUN was largely aimed at secondary school students, many of whom had never experienced MUN before, it was inevitable that they would start out slowly — on the first day, some councils had chairs having to push delegates to speak, such that the debate on the issue would continue.
However, in the words of a delegate (in response to allegations of an overly ambitious resolution), “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Over the few days, the delegates’ audacity and initiative quickly heightened such that the pace of debate steadily quickened, becoming progressively more intense and exciting for every council during the conference. Eventually, all councils were able to come to satisfying resolutions.
Noticeably different from other councils was the Historical Crisis Council, set in 1937 Europe — instead of typical country delegates, the delegates in this Council are instead expected to function as members of political cabinets, working together to further their country’s agenda in a region headed for war.
In addition to speeches, delegates could also send in directives allowing for immediate action, from mobilizing troops to spying on other councils. In the backroom, a fully functioning war map was hand drawn onto the LT6 whiteboard, allowing backroom staff to react to real-time updates and plan changes.
Other than the on-going Historical Crisis, the various councils also had to face plenary crisis events, which are sudden and urgent issues which delegates, from the same, or different councils, must combine forces to resolve.
The crises were multitudinous this year, with unique issues posed to each council. From Syrian refugee rerouting, to a transnational nuclear accident on the Korean borders, the various crises forced the delegates to delve into their roles while exercising urgency, creativity and critical thinking to resolve the issues.
Furthermore, both types of crisis were made more engaging this year through the use of Tumblr blogs, which acted as newsfeeds for updates in the situation for the different crises.
Another standout feature of this year’s RMUN conference was a system of Political Actors (‘PolActs’).
PolActs are meant to serve as guides for the councils: if the chairs feel that the discussion is not going in the direction that they desire, or want to introduce a topic to the floor, they can call in a PolAct to liven up the debate. They would then roleplay as specific parties, ranging from Syrian refugees, to US Politicians or extremist groups.
Furthermore, they were expected to be able to provide the council with the information that they need, making the delegates question the motions that they have raised, and better understand the human element of the issues that they discuss as a whole.
While some were a little confused by the presence of the actors at first, delegates quickly adapted to the situation by asking questions relevant to the situation at hand, in an attempt to understand the points raised by the actors better.
Shimeon Lee [17A01C] described delegates as “intrigued and delighted at PolActs, asking difficult questions and responding vigorously to points we brought up” and hoped that “PolActs not only helped further debate by providing an alternative viewpoint, but also brought some levity to otherwise serious council debates, making RMUN a unique and unforgettable experience.” When interviewed, delegates did praise the PolActs, stating that they really enriched council discussion through their fresh perspectives and insights, as well as being generally humorous and entertaining to watch.
RMUN wrapped up with a Closing Ceremony, which mostly consisted of award presentations for the top delegates of each council. In their presentation speeches, whilst many of the chairs made humorous references to the shenanigans of their respective councils, they also noted the delegates’ vast improvements over the course of the conference. Given that a significant portion of RMUN’s attendees were first-timers, this proved the event a success — not just for the winners, but for all other delegates as well.
The conference finally concluded with a closing dinner, instead of the customary dinner and dance of any MUN. Delegates could be seen excitedly shedding their restrictive blazers, ready to relax after 3 days of intense debate. Balloon decorations and even an inflatable Statue of Liberty adorned the canteen, where delegates from various councils gathered to eat, chat and take many pictures. The lively scene at closing dinner was evidence of the bonds formed between delegates of each council.
Tan Rhe-Anne (16A01A) of HSTA Executive Committee shared, “I’m glad that everything turned out well and although not all things went the way we planned, it all worked out in the end.”
Overall, RMUN was definitely a fun and eye-opening experience for delegates. Raffles Press definitely recommends the event for those who would like to challenge themselves in an arena of role-playing, debate and public speaking, or to those who would like to involve themselves in a community who holds like-minded interests in foreign affairs, politics and social issues.