Premature campaigning indeed

Dear Editor,

On February 22, you published a story wondering if “campaigning had begun before elections.” That would be the protocol in any general election (although according to the UTMSU Elections and Procedure Code, it’s out of order to campaign before nominations and the specified silent period). That said, your article stimulated my critical thinking and encouraged me to take a close look at the concerns highlighted.

Firstly, allow me to take this opportunity to define both the Students Union and the caucus as per TFD by Farlex online. The Students Union is “an organization at a college or university that provides services and facilities for recreation.” On the other hand, a caucus is “a meeting of the local members of a political party especially to select delegates to a convention or register preferences for candidates running for office.”

Our student union is not a political party, and although a caucus seems like an effective way to recommend the most capable candidates for an election, one, it shouldn’t be secret; two, it shouldn’t be made up of “select” local members; three, it shouldn’t aim to endorse a particular candidate; and four, all members who participate in that process should not be considered for executive positions on any of the teams competing in an election.

It is therefore tragic that all the above happened in the recently held caucus meetings. Even more alarmingly, they were chaired by the Speaker of the Board of Directors Walied Khogali, who has since taken a convenient leave of absence from his duties just in time for the elections (I quote Mr. Khogali: “Dear members of the Board of Directors, I would like to inform you all that I shall be taking a leave of absence from my responsibilities as Speaker of the Union for the duration of February and March”).

Sounds fishy? There’s more in the bucket. The caucus-endorsed candidate (also fully backed by the union) graciously approached three of the seven club presidents who were invited to the caucus for executive positions. One of them readily accepted the offer.

It makes me wonder why we encourage students’ involvement in their union at the beginning of the year, yet discourage them from actively participating in the electoral process at the end of the year. Our student union has become a dynasty composed of the Historical Old Boys who pull the strings of who gets in and who gets out through the secret caucus system. If you want to make it to the top, you’d better not question authority; that would entail “compromising character” and “giving up on students.”

I have been opposed to that process since last year when I was convinced to run for VP external instead of president, only to find out later that there was no team to run against, which turns the election into a YES/NO vote.

I have learned that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Competition is healthy, especially in one of the best universities in the world. We should be able to engage in constructive debates without necessarily blackmailing each other based on our view points as students’ representatives.

My primary commitment as a students’ representative is to serve the students’ best interests without any form of discrimination or classification. My allegiance is not with the Historical Old Boys.

Finally, I would like to commend those leaders who have tirelessly tried to improve the system. Questioning authority and challenging the status quo in the world today has become a nightmare, especially when it involves interest groups who only care to fulfill their goals. It takes courage and commitment to accomplish what students have started. I believe that future UTMers will attend a university where their student union will treat them equally and where every student will be given an equal opportunity for fair participation in the democratic process. Perhaps then protesting against different government sectors will make more sense.

Henry Ssali

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