John’s was thrown into chaos this weekend after voting for the college’s next JCR President resulted in a surprise victory for R.O.N (Re-Open Nominations).
Candidates Harry Kind and Shyam Thakerar were defeated after only attaining 29 and 31 per cent of the vote respectively to R.O.N’s 40 per cent amidst claims that they were out of touch with the rest of the JCR.
One second-year female member of St John’s, who did not wish to be named, justified her decision to vote for R.O.N., saying: “I voted R.O.N. because I don’t believe that either candidate really cares about JCR politics. Both candidates have chosen to be involved with university societies over the past year rather than any college societies.
“JCR president is a big role and requires quite a high level of commitment and understanding of the undergraduate college body, which I don’t feel that either candidate has demonstrated.”
Another second-year Johnian, who voted for Harry Kind, said: “Frankly I think it’s astounding that so many members of our JCR felt that they had no option but to reject two able candidates, both of whom would have made fine champions of the interests of the undergraduate body to senior members of the college.
“It is my belief that the disaffected undergraduates of St John’s felt they had to R.O.N. either on the basis that they couldn’t see much difference between the two candidates, or on some fundamental misunderstanding of what the requirements of the role are and how both candidates could have adequately met those standards.”
Speaking to The Oxford Student, candidate Harry Kind contemplated the reasons for R.O.N.’s success. He said: “Both Shyam and I had run low-key campaigns – neither of us wanted to waste out the environment by putting posters everywhere – so it may have been that because people hadn’t seen much of us, they just didn’t vote for either of us. Or maybe nobody really liked either of us!
“I’d like to think both of us are reasonably experienced with decent policies but maybe that didn’t come across.” Considering the prospect of a repeat campaign, Kind was pessimistic: “I doubt I will run again,” he said.
He added: “After four triumphant [JCR] defeats I should probably get the hint that St John’s politics is not for me. Maybe I’ll lead a military coup or just retire to the consultancy and lecture circuit like St John’s most famous alumnus.”
According to the John’s JCR constitution, if the President’s office remains unelected then the Vice President will fill the role until a new candidate is found.
However, JCR Vice-president elect Will Todman said that he would be reluctant to step into the President’s shoes. He said: “I really hope someone does run for President in the next elections as if I’d had wanted to be president I’d have run for it!”
Todman added: “I’m really surprised about the result and don’t think many people here were expecting that. I just hope that the presidential candidates do run for other committee positions as they both have a lot to offer.”
Candidate Shyam Thakerar was unavailable for comment.
JCR President Uchechukwu Ukachi reaffirmed his belief in the importance of democratic electoral procedures, saying: “Only active engagement with JCR affairs would have generated those results. As far as I am aware, there was no RON Campaign and the result reflects the vote of the student population who were actively engaged in the process and 185 turned out to cast their votes.”
He continued: “I hope that it doesn’t deter prospective candidates from running for JCR President position. It is a privilege to be elected to serve and it brings significant personal development opportunities.”
Voting for JCR President will be repeated on Saturday of 7th week alongside JCR committee elections.
Presidential election marred by discrepancies
But confusion was abound when the results of both the Presidential and Vice-presidential elections were temporarily nullified due to a discrepancy between the number of voters and ballot papers.
In an email to members of the college’s JCR on Saturday night, Ukachi said that the difference “would have been of high importance to the outcome,” and that “parts of the election process will have to be repeated.”
However, in a subsequent email sent after an election tribunal convened on Sunday morning, Ukachi issued the following statement: “After speaking with all scrutineers, the tribunal decided that the discrepancies were within error and the voting scrutiny process was fair with minimal potential for multiple votes.
“It was more likely that the handful of JCR members did not record their names when voting.”
This decision meant that Todman, a third year studying Oriental Studies, was named Vice-president elect, having won 57.1% of the vote. Commenting on the confusion, Todman said: “It was a difficult situation, but fortunately since the number of votes wouldn’t have affected the overall outcome, they probably made the best decision by keeping the results as they were.
“I’d say that the fuss that these nine votes caused shows how the JCR is committed to fair and transparent elections, and that probably other committees would have just brushed the issue aside.”
JCR President Ukachi told The Oxford Student: “I think I might have generated some confusion by announcing the invalidation rather than suspension, but we could not in good conscience announce results without first finding out why we were out by nine votes.
“The stated discrepancy was due to a handful of JCR members that did not have their names taken when they balloted. Members are required to bring their bod-cards, have their names taken before proceeding to vote. There were three people present on average during the election, the Returning Officer and two scrutineers.
After meeting with scrutineers, the election tribunal concluded that it was unlikely that JCR members voted more than once but that a few people slipped through during busy periods/handover between shifts.
Ukachi added: “In some ways, it strengthens the call to move towards online systems.”