Although results have not yet been made official, a ballot count on March 26 indicated a victory — by a substantial margin of approximately 300 for each position — for UTM Movement. Both referenda items voted on the past two weeks — the Student Refugee program and the increase in student levy for the on-campus food bank — were also passed.
Led by current UTMSU VP Internal Joey Santiago, the new student union executive has essentially pledged to carry on the work of the previous one, building on existing efforts to lower tuition fees and overseeing the planned Student Centre expansion.
Initially, commerce student Tooba Haroon was prepared to run against UTM Movement for the position of VP Equity, but dropped out of the race for unknown reasons as of March 20. However, the Vote No campaign began to organize around the same time, and during voting days had members standing next to polling stations holding signs and encouraging students to vote against the UTM Movement. In the end, only one out of three students took their advice — roughly the same number who spoiled their ballots or abstained — which could reflect the coordinated and constant campaigning efforts of Joey Santiago and his team.
At the CCIT polling station on Thursday, several student voters were interviewed by The Medium, and the most commonly reason cited for voting UTM Movement was because my friend told me to or those people campaigning over there told me to.
A second-year psychology student who wished to be known only as R.D was surprised to hear that only one team was running even as she prepared to vote, but conceded that at least it makes it easier [to choose]. After speaking to voters, this reporter cast his own ballot and encountered another election irregularity: full-time students were given voting slips for the part-time candidate, contrary to Election and Referenda Commission (ERC) rules.
According to ERC Co-Chair Saaliha Malik, part-time candidate Ibrahim Hindy was actually disqualified earlier last week, due to demerit points levied against the entire UTM Movement team for infractions such as using the UTMSU office and staff to produce campaign materials. Whereas every other candidate is allowed 35 demerit points, the parttime candidate is only allowed 30, and the accumulated total of 32 that UTM Movement is currently appealing (the results of which remain unknown as of press time) means that Hindy was technically out of the race. The fact that an unknown number of full-time students also voted for Hindy certainly calls the validity of the final results into question.
The All-Candidates Debate on March 23 did little to lend any legitimacy to the election, partly since there was no debating to speak of, but also because only a handful of students bothered to show up. As well, many of those in attendance were UTMSU members or volunteers themselves. Questions were read from printed sheets and after each answer was given, the applause from the candidates table often overwhelmed the scattered clapping from the audience.
At a table near the back, third-year biochemistry student Leen Ghozlani commented that she was genuinely interested in listening to what the candidates on stage had to say, but that it was hard to hear what with the faulty microphones and audio system. When asked about the lack of competition in the election, third-year molecular biology student Mona Kalmouni suggested that it wasnt that bad. We have trust in them [UTM Movement]. They were trained really well by the people before them, she enthused.
President-elect Joey Santiago agreed that his experience with the previous UTMSU helped to shape his approach to leadership in his current role. I will take the lessons I’ve learned from this year and apply them toward the year to come, explained Santiago. It feels great to have the campus behind my team. Finally we can start working towards next year’s vision and prepare for a great year ahead.
When asked how he planned to implement his goals, Santiago emphasized that it would require meaningful and productive relationships with groups and clubs on campus. I believe that constant and consistent communication with the student body is the key to getting things done, he maintained. We want to make sure that we stay on track in providing students with what they actually want.
The lack of opposition in the election seemed to disappoint Santiago, who suggested that the Vote No protesters concerns stem from the fact that there was little to no opposition for this year’s executive positions. The idea of telling students to ‘vote against’ with the argument that voting in favour would be supporting student apathy does not make sense, pointed out Santiago. If these individuals are concerned with the apathy that is apparently present at UTM, I welcome them to pick up a nomination package for next years’ elections.
Sunil Shah, the UTM commerce alumni who helped to organize the Vote No protest movement, explained that his group was created with the intention of opening up and questioning the democratic process, and not just attacking UTM Movement. How is this election fair when one party is running? he asked. I understand that they had taken the initiative to run, but the true question to be asked is, Is this democratic?
The purpose of this campaign is to ensure that those running for these positions will make a difference, and that students have the right to vote no if they believe that the candidates did not represent the students vision, Shah further elaborated. Due to the nature of the group, we received backlash from supporters of UTM Movement [although] we tried to keep the debate as civil as possible.
Shah did not comment on why his group chose not to organize a counterticket or mount some official opposition to UTM Movement; perhaps next year well see a real fight.