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Returning Officer Slams Executive in OUSA Election

Returning Officer Slams Executive in OUSA Election

Today's ruling by the OUSA (Otago University Students Association) Returning Officer, Simon Peart, has highlighted "an unconscionable conflict of interest", "wholly inappropriate and unfair" conduct and breaches of the OUSA constitution within the recent OUSA election vindicating Student Choice's concerns over OUSA’s conduct of the election.

"The recent executive election for the Otago University Students Association (OUSA), raises serious questions about the interference of the executive with the election process." says Student Choice Interim National Spokesperson Matthew Flannagan.

A formal complaint was laid against five members of the current executive who were seeking re-election when OUSA co-Woman’s Rights Officer, Megan Sellers, revealed to Student Choice that their campaigns were assisted by OUSA employees and other executive members, who also specifically campaigned against non-incumbent candidates.

Election rules prohibit OUSA’s endorsement of any candidates. In response to the complaint, the offending members of the executive defended their actions because the executive met prior to the close of elections, and changed OUSA’s election rules without telling the non-incumbent candidates.

In todays ruling, the returning officer has called the actions of the OUSA executive "wholly inappropriate and unfair." For executive officers who are standing for re-election to change the rules of the election without telling other candidates so that the executive can promote those candidates, said the returning officer, was "fundamentally illegitimate, contrary to all notions of due process and procedural propriety, and manifestly unfair," and contravened OUSA’s constitution.

That the executive did so resulted in "an unconscionable conflict of interest." The offence was only aggravated by the fact that the incumbent candidates who sought to change the rules did not notify either the other candidates or the returning officer, which Mr Flannagan says, demonstrates that the change of rules only enabled the incumbent candidates to do things that other candidates had agreed to abstain from when accepting their nominations.

The returning officer upheld the complaint, but said that a new election would not be called as the extent of the impact that these breaches of the rules had on the election outcome could not be determined to be significant enough.

Mr Flannagan said this another reason why students shouldn’t be forced to join student associations. It’s one thing to observe antics like this as a kind of unfortunate sideshow to university life, but for all students to be forced to fund and join organisations that carry on like this is unconscionable."

"Although shocking, this is really just an outworking of the philosophy behind compulsory membership. In compulsory student association membership, students can be compelled to fund causes that they themselves oppose. This is a stone’s throw from what we have here: some candidates in an electoral race have been forced to fund the campaigns of their opponents."

Student Choice Supports voluntary membership of student associations on the grounds of freedom of association.

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