The following is an open letter to the SU elections committee, sent to the Students’ Union and Impact on Friday 12th March. If you’d like to have your letter published drop us an email at [email protected]
The state of our Democracy.
I for one have lost all faith in our University’s supposed ‘democratic’ system. I am utterly flabbergasted and astounded that an unaccountable and virtually unelected elections committee have the supreme power to remove candidates from the campaign through the creation of rules and regulations which were introduced posthumously.
If we look at the case of removed candidate John Smith*: He had been ‘warned’ and has since been punished for certain acts which were not declared ‘illegal’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘not allowed’ until AFTER the act was committed. How can a candidate or anyone for that matter, possibly be punished for acting in a way that was NOT at the time breaching any rules?
The candidate is not to blame for the failings of the ‘powers that be’ to include criteria which they have since decided should be. If anything, the candidate should be awarded for his use of imagination. If the committee felt there were problems inherent in the rules system, they should have initiated a review of the system and the subsequent report should have instigated change and reform which should have been implemented in time for the next election. Not this one. It is intrinsically wrong that they have the power to remove and punish candidates who did not break any present, pre-written and agreed rules.
It is tantamount to creating a law to prosecute and imprison someone for an action they had committed weeks or months before. A ridiculous example would be to create a law stating that if a short loan book is not given back at exactly 10am, the person to whom it is issued will be expelled from the university – and then the university looking through the records and expelling and withdrawing degree certificates to everyone who has ever handed in a library book late. Ludicrous? I think so. It is completely unjustifiable to punish a candidate for breaking a rule that didn’t exist!
On top of new rules being created and implemented willy-nilly, even existing rules are weak. Candidates can have ‘representations’ filed against them by anyone, and they are not verified. A candidate can have a ‘black mark’ placed next to their name due to one person lodging a complaint that is potentially false. No other witnesses to the ‘incident’ are required, nor is any other photographic proof necessary! The person lodging the complaint could be a friend of the opposition, an old foe – I’m sure most of the student population wouldn’t have a clue where to write a complaint. Furthermore, the appeals committee oversee all complaints. Thus my complaint about the electoral committee to the electoral committee is likely to be shredded. More on them now…
To add insult to considerable injury, candidates in the position of John* are as he accurately described “guilty until proven innocent”. The appeals committee does not meet until after the elections. Who on Earth thought that was a good idea? Surely in cases such as these, the appeals committee should be drawn in almost immediately – and before the candidate is removed. In exactly whose interest is it to conduct the appeal after the election? It has the potential to initiate a by-election, with the original winning candidate perhaps then being stripped of their position if the de-selected candidate is elected. Unquestionably this stupid policy is not in the interests of the other candidates. It is not in the interests of the electorate. (Who as far as I can gather, are rather apathetic in the first round, let alone if a second round was required) and it is most certainly not in the interests of the candidate under fire – who may have already lost their credible reputation, as well as being put in the unenviable position of having to defend their character.
Who are the elections committee anyway? It was only upon doing research following this issue that I found that anyone could apply to be on it. Perhaps the SUs failure to publicise this position is one of many examples of where the SU have failed to communicate effectively with the people they are supposedly representing. As a result of this poor communication, very few people are aware of the opportunity and unsurprisingly therefore, pretty much all those that apply are awarded the position. All that is required of candidates is a short speech arguing why they should be elected. So who are those on the committee? Are these characters qualified enough to make the decision? Are any of them affiliated in any way with any of the election? Candidates running for the panel have to declare any ’conflict of interest’, but do they? Is this checked up on? On top of this, even after the decision has been made to remove a candidate, the candidate is not allowed to see who is on the panel or who/if anyone had a conflict of interest against them. WHY? This is completely and utterly unacceptable.
My proposal: the elections committee should be made up of students from outside the university, delegates from other universities perhaps. It cannot effectively be carried out internally. For example, if you asked the North Koreans if they fought a fair election campaign, I’m sure their answer would be somewhat different to that of the UNs election observers. You need people who are completely impartial to oversee any election campaign; they also need to be accountable for their actions, which our election committee are not. Meetings to decide the fate of candidates are held in virtual secrecy, and the identity of the panel appears to be anonymous – or at least impossible to find online. There are no minutes, no reports, and no transparency. There is therefore, no accountability, no fairness, no fair election, and a failed democracy.
Of course, the SU elections are largely unimportant to most people in the university, let alone those outside it. But it does pose many questions relating to democracy itself. If we can spectacularly fail in holding a free, fair and transparent election on something so trivial, with students who are on the whole, well-educated, and good intentioned, what hope do we have of ever having an effective democracy with good, free and fair elections in the big wide world?
Before today I had no inclination to stand for election this year, or next year in any way, shape or form. I thought (and to a certain extent still do) that it was just a big popularity contest that I just didn’t want to be a part of. I believed that it fundamentally changed nothing for the students. But now I’m not sure. I think I am now more inclined to stand – in an attempt to overhaul this pitiful system. Or is this false optimism? Would any attempt to change the system be futile? Who knows, even flippantly suggesting running for a position may result in my removal before I even officially put myself forward. Maybe John* was booted out because his policies may have been a little controversial? A little hard to implement? A little too much hard work?
Regardless of this, I can see that there really is something fundamentally wrong with our university’s supposed ‘democratic’ structure, and it has to change. Faults in the system need to be addressed and dealt with now. I don’t know how deep-seated the problem is, but worryingly, after only 20 minutes of research, I found countless flaws. Undoubtedly there are many, many, many more.
I sincerely hope that whoever wins this year’s Democracy and Communications post seriously overhauls and completely reforms the present system. I wish them luck with this epic task.Those who have left it in this appalling state should feel ashamed and red-faced.
I very much look forward to your response. Please re-affirm my faith in the SU exec and in the state of democracy at this university.