Hijacking democracy

It is deceptively easy to again criticize the Students’ Union’s continuing inadequacies.

At this week’s Students’ Legislative Council meeting, the President and Provost of the university were not successfully grilled on tuition, the promised prayer space did not get any closer to reality, and the non-existent women’s centre suffered a crushing blow. Yet the SU’s representational efforts only mobilized 10 private students to hear issues affecting potentially 100, 90 and 50 per cent, respectively, of students. An easy editorial that would be.

But election irregularities take precedence.

One month ago, the SU by-election drew 12 candidates for two Academic Commissioner positions, an extraordinary event which Chief Returning Officer Shuvaloy Majumdar compared favourably in operational scope to the general election.

Unfortunately, Mr. Majumdar, after arduous consideration, was also in a position to claim: “activists working for two campaigns in particular, including a former candidate for President of the Students’ Union, widely and without hesitation compromised these [six] bylaws.”

Mr. Majumdar alleged without evidence that the sanctity of the voting process–ensured by the bylaws he cited–was violated for some students. And though no elected officials admitted to wrongdoing, newly-elected Academic Commissioner’s Birju Dattani’s statements at the SLC meeting perilously implied otherwise.

“Yeah, they [voters] could have been influenced, it’s possible,” said Dattani of some candidates’ innovative use of portable, private polling stations. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”

Bringing polling stations (laptop computers with wireless Internet access) to electors was certainly innovative and takes after successful decades of bussing voters to the polls in larger elections. But in larger elections, campaigners do not intimidate or threaten to culturally ostracize voters at the booths, and candidates do not boast in their legislatures about exploiting legislation left behind by technology.

Dattani continued: “We owe it to council, to students, to show there are flaws in the system… It could be a travesty of democracy sometimes.”

A travesty indeed.

Even if Mr. Majumdar successfully proved his allegations in a competent court, the letter of the law was likely unbroken–only the spirit of a fair and just democratic election. Recall that the alleged perpetrators hesitated until they were elected to reveal flaws in the SU election bylaws. Had the innovators disclosed the flaws earlier, the prospects of democracy could have been greatly enhanced in this hotly contested race.

Though they succeeded in election, these two new officials have already failed once to uphold democracy to the best of their abilities, with five months left in their terms.

In his current position, CRO Majumdar hesitates to try the matter before the SU Review Board on the grounds that witnesses who publicly testify to alleged election fraud might be harmed. But if his allegations are true, students and other candidates alike have already suffered an unjust election conducted under the aegis of retribution to those who would speak the truth.

Though the candidates’ alleged innovations have escaped SU justice as Mr. Majumdar admits, the candidates have not escaped the court of public opinion or whatever justice their deities prescribe. Until these newly-elected officials provide a complete account of both their own and their supporters’ means of securing the offices, and in light of their callous views on election irregularities, we should all scrutinize their ability to fairly represent students.

In contrast, the other elected SU officials have done a fine job by actively addressing election bylaws now, to mitigate any negative repetition of the special interest politics that threatened to extinguish Mr. Majumdar’s democratic fire.

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