There was yet more controversy and confusion over the Manchester SU elections last week, as Kazi Tawseef dislodged Ellie Bradbury to become Wellbeing Officer following a successful appeal that overturned his disqualification.
Chourdhry Haziq and Shahneela Shehereen, candidates for General Secretary and Activities Officer respectively, were also successful in their appeals, but lost out in the subsequent recounts. The disqualifications of Khaldoon Khan (Community) and Ali Khalid (Diversity) were upheld by a 17-strong student panel.
A Students’ Union statement read: “Following the disqualification of five candidates from the Students’ Union Elections at 9.50pm on Thursday 14 March, the disqualified candidates were offered the opportunity to lodge an appeal against this decision. The deadline for appeals was 9am on Friday 22 March. All five candidates lodged appeals.”
Whilst three of the five appeals were successful, only one result was changed. A recount for the position of Wellbeing Officer saw Kazi Tawseef beat Ellie Bradbury by 278 votes.
The newly-instated Wellbeing Officer ran an unusual but clearly effective campaign, claiming to be supported by Albus Dumbledore and pledging to deliver a 24-hour student-only ambulance service.
But Mr Tasweef was initially kicked out of the race after one of his supporters allegedly hassled a voter at a polling station, despite several warnings by an official.
On results night, Fuse FM’s Joe Kearney broke the news that five candidates had been disqualified following complaints of cheating, minutes before the winners were announced.
While some took to Twitter to praise the move, PakSoc, who had supported all five of the banned candidates, called for a “detailed investigation” to ensure there “was no discrimination” against their candidates.
The panel that overturned the three disqualifications was “picked to be reflective of the wider student population,” meaning students were chosen on the basis of factors such as gender, disability, and sexuality.
Their decision will be devastating for Ellie Bradbury, who told The Mancunion having been announced as the winner on 14 March: “I’m so happy. This is a job I really wanted to do.”
When asked for her reaction to the news that she will no longer take up the position of Wellbeing Officer next year, Ellie explained: “I am very upset about the situation. But more than anything I am furious about how the whole process has been handled.”
“I was only made aware of the appeal the night before the decision to overturn the disqualifications, almost two weeks after the initial elections night,” she told The Mancunion. “I find it deeply upsetting that I have not received any information from the union since the recount, nor have I received any form of response to an email I sent expressing my concerns about how the situation has been handled.”
“Considering that the Students’ Union is meant to be there to support and advise the student body, that there has been no concern shown for how distressing this situation has been for any of the parties involved is distressing.”
She continued: “This whole process has been a shambles and deeply upsetting for all parties involved. I will be making sure that the Union takes sufficient steps to ensure that this never happens again. If I am not satisfied with their response, I will consider seeking legal advice.”
Ellie also confirmed that she has not been given the opportunity to appeal against the decision to reinstate Kazi Tawseef.
The reinstatement of three previously disqualified candidates has also sparked anger within the Students’ Union itself. On Wednesday, Manchester SU trustee Sarah Webster posted an open letter on her Facebook page deploring the Union’s handling of the saga.
It read: “The UMSU trustees were not informed of the decision to hold an appeal regarding the disqualification of five candidates from the UMSU elections yesterday. As a student trustee, I have received no communication on the appeal and have no knowledge of how the appeal was conducted or the information presented to the student panel.”
Ms Webster continued: “I have only had access to the information on the disqualifications and appeals that has been available to all students via the UMSU website. I found out via Facebook about the decision of the appeal.”
“I believe that the trustees should have been informed in advance for transparency and accountability reasons as we are ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions of the Union. It falls within the remit of our role to ensure that any appeals process against the decision of the Returning Officer is independent, unbiased and transparent.”
“I will uphold the decision of the appeal. However, I believe that there are concerns about the appeal and how it was conducted that must be answered. I am posting this statement because it is important that all students have faith in the democratic process at UMSU, and that the Union’s decisions and actions are transparent and accountable.”
“I post as a concerned trustee and as a concerned student,” the letter concluded.
The open letter has received significant backing on Facebook, with no less than half of the newly-elected Students’ Union executive indicating their support for the letter. Rosie Dammers (Education), Clifford Fleming (Campaigns), Liam Mayet (Activities) and Tabz O’Brien-Butcher (Women’s) all ‘liked’ the post after it went up last Wednesday lunchtime.
Nick Pringle, General Secretary of the Students’ Union, issued a statement confirming they have “decided to commission an independent external expert to look at our election processes and procedures.
“A separate full written report outlining the appeals decisions, including the reasons for the decisions and the process which was followed, be produced by the independent parties who facilitated the process and published by the Students’ Union as soon as possible.”
It has undoubtedly been an election season in which the rules have come under considerable scrutiny. Some candidates criticised the role current exec officers play in campaigns, particularly after Kaz Dyson publicly apologised for her tweets about Activities Officer candidate Raj Singh.
Later in the campaign, an open letter in protest against the use of iPads to garner votes was signed by ten candidates. The Students’ Union had initially banned them “until further notice” over the weekend of the 10-11 March, before the election’s Returning Officer confirmed to candidates that they would be permitted as of the following Monday.