Low voter turnout at UG student society elections

– disillusionment, poor public awareness blamed

The results of the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) elections which got underway yesterday will likely reflect a low voter turnout as a check of the polling stations at the Turkeyen Campus revealed that not many students turned up to vote.

The results of the elections will determine who will take the reins of the student society for the 2013/2014 academic year.

Low numbers at the polls were probably expected as year after year UG students have expressed their disillusionment with the on-campus politics. One party, Student Movement Advocating Rights and Transformation (SMART) seemed to be aware of this reality.

Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday afternoon, party member Ramesh Tacoordeen said he believed many students were not voting because on numerous occasions student bodies have made promises which they failed to follow through on.

The continuous practice of making and breaking promises, Tacoordeen said, has caused many students to lose confidence in the entire idea of elections and a student body. He also blamed recent incidents, including the misuse of the student society’s funds by past UGSS President Ganesh Mahipaul for students’ attitudes toward the elections.

Earlier this year, Mahipaul was made to demit office after an audit of the UGSS’s finances revealed that he had misappropriated close to $1,000,000 of its funds. He subsequently repaid $1,095,000.

But even more than this, it was clear that many students may have not voted because they did not know where the polling stations were, and also because many of them were oblivious to the fact that elections were taking place.

As this reporter walked down the catwalks of the various faculties it quickly became evident that many students did not know where they were required to go to vote, while others only became aware of the elections after they were asked if they had voted. At least two of the parties, SMART and Revolutionaries, blamed this on the lack of public awareness work done by UG Welfare Officer Daniella King.

As the Welfare Officer, King, according to the parties, is tasked with the administration of the elections, including ensuring that sufficient public awareness exercises are carried out.

Representatives of SMART yesterday said that while they believed voting this year was better than numbers seen last year, they remain convinced that King could have done more to promote the elections.

Efforts to contact King concerning her alleged inefficiencies were unsuccessful as she was taxed with her election-related administration duties.

Presidential candidate of the Student Empowerment Alliance (SEA) Richard Rambarran though, was of the opinion that King was committed to her responsibility and exercised that commitment in the dispatch of her responsibilities.

He said though, that the administration of the elections process is a very large task and opined that greater resources ought to be committed by the university to assist King in her responsibilities.

Meanwhile, Sara Bharrat, Public Relations person for the Revolutionaries was in agreement that King did a poor job as the election’s administrator. King, she said, bears the responsibility of educating the student population about the voting process as well as all of the activities associated with the elections.

Yet, the presentation of manifestos by the various parties, initially slated for last Friday, had to be postponed because many party supporters did not know about the event. Instead, the presentation was held on Tuesday evening and Stabroek News is informed that only about 150 students attended.

This was blamed by at least two of the parties contesting the elections on the poor public relations works done by the Welfare Officer. The alleged lack of public awareness work done by King had to be supplemented by work done by the party itself.

Representatives of SMART in particular, said that even as the elections rolled on they moved about the campus helping students to find polling stations.

Bharrat explained that for various other reasons, the Revolutionaries lack confidence in King carrying out the administrative aspect of the elections. This is because several complaints made to her office have gone unaddressed.

Bharrat also claimed that various members of the other parties contesting the elections went around the campus with party apparel in a last-minute campaigning bid. This, she said, is against the code of conduct of the elections and complaints were made to King’s office, but she says she is unsatisfied that King took sufficient actions to address the matter.

Rambarran, while stating that none of his council members were engaging in such activities, admitted that some of the party’s supporters may have been doing such. He said though, that he has no control over their actions and had urged his supporters to abide by the rules which govern the elections, including the rules relating to campaigning in elections day.

There have also been alleged cases of discriminations against Revolutionaries representatives because of their sexual orientation. Bharrat told Stabroek News that supporters of SEA were overheard dissuading students from voting for the party because of the sexual orientation of some of its members. Some persons even took the discrimination to Facebook she said, publicly urging students not to vote for the Revolutionaries on the basis of the sexual orientation of its members.

Bharrat said while they could not present evidence of what was taking place on campus, copies of the remarks on Facebook were taken to the Welfare Officer, who she said has failed to take any actions because she found the evidence “inadmissible.”

When Stabroek News asked Rambarran about the claims made against his supporters, he admitted to hearing about them, but once again said he could only exercise control over his council members and they were not the ones involved. Nevertheless, he said, he has always promoted a non-discriminatory, non-violent campus life, and has implored his own supporters to create an atmosphere conducive to his ideals.

The second stage of the elections will be held on September 27 when students of the Tain Campus cast their ballots and on September 28, students of the university’s Master’s programme will also vote for the party of their choice.