Zuleyka Shahin, candidate in the recent Union presidential elections, has had her Oxford Union membership suspended for one year, been fined £250 and has a life-time ban on holding office, following an election tribunal.
The tribunal consisted of two cases, one of which was held against Shahin. It lasted approximately six hours and took place on Saturday of 8th Week. The panel consisted of three members, with a collected 27 terms’ worth of membership or more, none of whom are current students or resident in Oxford. Of those three members, one was a woman, one was a person of colour, and two were qualified lawyers.
Election tribunals are held after each Union election in 8th week against any candidates thought to have broken election rules. The Returning Officer has no authority to dismiss complaints of electoral malpractice, and so if a complaint is made, a tribunal must be called. Shahin did not choose to bring any tribunals against anyone herself, and chose to not attend the tribunal against her.
She was found to have violated Rule 33(a)(i)(6) of the Union, which states “A person shall have committed an Electoral Malpractice if he performs any of the following actions: extortion, blackmail or intimidation in connection with the Election”.
Election rules state that if she fails to pay the fine within seven days, it will increase by 10%. If she does not pay the fine within 14 days, her membership of the Oxford Union Society will be revoked.
Shahin told Cherwell, “Unless I find £250 in the next 7 days, I will not be paying the fine. I simply do not have that kind of money. Nor do I wish to validate this process by paying, even if I were to find the money.
“This proves once again everything I campaigned about relating to access and the use of fines as punishment. It makes no sense that a panel, I am guessing of mostly men, can whimsically decide on a cause of punishment as such. Other members of my team have also been fined, others who will also undoubtedly struggle to find the cash. Yet the Union talks about opening its doors to all and inviting more people to run for office. This is why we get the same types of people running for office term in term out.
“The entire “Election Tribunal” is a waste of members’ money, with tribunals costing up to £4000.
“I would like to know: Who was on the “Election Tribunal” panel? How many women? How many people of colour? Were these some of the same people who heckled me in Hustings? The same people who attacked my campaign page? How impartial was this judgment?
“Instead of fining me £250, somebody needs to look into refunding my lifetime membership fee following my services to the Oxford Union Society. I feel I have been treated unfairly.”
Cherwell now understands that the fine increases will begin on the seventh day of Michaelmas 2015 rather than from the day of the tribunal itself.
The panel which made the ruling against Shahin is due to publish a report on the tribunals. Suspended members are not automatically banned from the Union premises, rather, they have the same status as non-members.
Peter Orlov, a member of the tribunal, told Cherwell in a personal capacity, “it is frankly amazing that Ms Shahin should paint the tribunal’s composition or decision as being somehow opaque or “whimsical”: had she bothered to attend herself or send a representative, she could have had all of the answers she claims to seek and made such representations as she wished.
“The panel was comprised of three members of the Union, who happen to have been a man of colour, a woman and – myself – a gay man who has previously been Chair of OUSU’s “Queer Rights” campaign and has been involved with LGBT campaigns and charities (including NUS’ LGBT campaign and Stonewall) since my teenage years.”
Orlov conceded “as a trans woman of colour, some of Ms Shahin’s successes in life will have been more difficult than they may have been for others” but went on to say Ms Shahin “has sought at every stage to present every personal gain at the Union as a result of her tenacity and every failing, however manifestly unconnected, as a result of some animus against her as a member of one or more minorities. In this case, there is no malice towards her whatsoever – her being found guilty of electoral malpractice is a result of her own actions which breached the rules of both the Society and, frankly, of basic decency.”
Conor Diamond, Hertford College, one of the two students to bring claims against Shahin in a joint case but which were not upheld, commented: “I’m saddened that things ended this way, but ultimately very pleased that the judgement recognises the necessity for fair and well-conducted elections.
“Ms Shahin’s race or gender had absolutely no influence on my behaviour in dropping out or my decision to take up a formal complaint. I continue to hold Ms Shahin in high regard and to wish her well.”
The student whose claims against Shahin were upheld by the tribunal has been approached for comment.