Oxford Union President Mayank Banerjee appears to have backed down from threatening to resign his position after deciding that new electoral rules are in place for today’s (Friday) elections.
At the meeting of the Consultative Committee on Monday, Banerjee announced his intention to resign if the recently passed electoral changes were not in place.
The changes involved the introduction of a ‘Re-Open Nominations’ (RON) option, and the legalising of campaigning, including slates. The changes were approved by 92 per cent of member voters on Thursday November 13th, although the validity of that poll was questioned when Returning Officer (RO) Thomas Reynolds issued a rule interpretation on Saturday, declaring the electoral changes invalid.
The ballot papers for Friday were printed earlier this week without a RON option.
However, after consulting an advisory board on Tuesday, and after the majority of election candidates signed a declaration saying they are standing by the rule change, the President declared that he would be ignoring the Returning Officer and running the election under the new rules. This, in his view, seems to have removed the need for his resignation — despite the fact that there is no RON option on the ballot paper.
Furthermore, when Cherwell requested the minutes of Monday’s Consultative Committee meeting in which Banerjee reportedly threatened to resign, the Chair of the Committee refused to hand them over — despite the rules stating that the minutes have to be available at least 72 hours after the meeting.
Banerjee told Cherwell on Wednes- day that, “On Monday, I considered resigning if the new electoral rules were not in place by Friday’s elections. This was because I believed they were being blocked undemocratically.
“Yesterday, an advisory board asserted that the new electoral rules were in place, and as such, Friday’s elections would be run as per the wishes of 92 per cent of the members who voted in the poll. I am glad that all of the candidates in this election have expressly recognised that the new set of rules is in place, and that they will campaign accordingly.
“I would like to thank the Returning Officer for all his hard work so far, and look forward to his administration of the new set of rules on Friday. I will do everything I can to help him to that end.”
If Banerjee is to resign, he would become only the fourth Oxford Union President ever to resign, and the first since 1972.
Banerjee also issued a ruling at the Union on Wednesday, stating, “On Sunday 23 November 2014, the RO issued a series of interpretations and a ruling reguarding the validity of the poll which occured on Thursday 13 November 2014.
“After consulting with an advisory board made up of the Senior Officers and a member of OLDUT (the Oxford Literary and Debating Union Trust, which owns the Union’s buildings), which has strongly asserted that the interpretations and ruling were outside of the RO’s jurisdiction, I rule that the interpretations and ruling were outside of the RO’s jurisdiction.
“This is the final ruling or interpretation on this matter until a Senior Disciplinary Committee rules otherwise.”
Hours later, though, Reynolds responded with another ruling; in its Preamble, he insisted, “I unambiguously have interpretative power over Rule 32(e), which describes my duty.
“In the same way that an SDC or a Tribunal has the power to over-rule both the President and me, I have the power to over-rule the President in matters pertaining to the conduct of the Election.
“The President is appealing to the authority of a so-called advisory board, comprised of a Member of OLDUT and the Senior Officers. This is clearly problematic for a variety of reasons. The most important of which is that this has no basis in the Rules.
“I am ultimately accountable for the conduct of the elections according to the Rules; I must run the election in accordance with my conscience and the Rules as they actually stand. I am accountable for my decisions to the Membership through the Electoral Tribunal and any Member who disagrees with my decision is entitled to bring a claim of Innocent Interference.”
The ruling itself was written “regarding the President’s ruling of Wednesday 26 November, my own previous interpretations and ruling, and, in general, this term’s Elections.” It reads, “On Sunday 23 November 2014, I issued a series of four interpretations and a ruling regarding the validity of the ‘poll’ that occured on Thursday 13 November 2014 and associated matters.
“The so-called advisory board that President has consulted has no authority under the Rules. In my judgment, which is authoritative under [the Rules], the interpretations and ruling were not outside of my jurisdiction. I therefore set aside the President’s Ruling, as my ruling and interpretations evidently have greater authority — this is clearly within the course of my duty.
“Therefore, I hereby rule that on the Election on Friday 28 November will indeed be run as per my previous Ruling on this matter, namely that the electoral Rules have not changed.”
It is understood that Reynolds is backed by the several ex-ROs. Meanwhile, the majority of the election candidates have signed a declaration backing the rule change. Describing themselves as the “people who seemingly benefit the most from the Returning Officer’s blocking of electoral reform,” as they wouldn’t have to face RON and are automatically elected, the candidates’ statement asserts, “We are still arguing that change is the right thing.
“Not only do the reforms make the elections much more open and transparent, it is ridiculous that the decision of 92 per cent of those who voted has been undemocratically overturned by one person.”
If candidates are caught breaking the rules against campaigning, as prescribed by the old rules, they may face a tribunal after the election. It is thought that the tribunal would ultimately decide whether or not the new rules were in place for the election.
The candidates’ statement continues, “The reason you have never seen a statement like this, written by candidates for an election, is that the old rules forbid it. The committee has worked extremely hard to introduce long-overdue reform to these outdated rules.
“We nominated for the election in the belief that we had finally succeeded in achieving this, but the recent undemocratic ruling makes it clear this is not the case. Nonetheless, we are committed to these reforms to make sure that this election, and all elections in the future, are run in the right way.”