Union President threatens resignation over rules

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The President of the Oxford Union, Mayank Banerjee, has stated that he plans to resign on Friday if his disputed rules changes are not enforced in Friday’s elections for the society’s committee. They were overwhelmingly endorsed by the Union’s membership in a poll conducted on 13th November when 92 per cent of those who voted indicated they were in favour of the relaxing of the Unions laws on electoral malpractice. 

However Thomas G Reynolds, the society’s Returning Officer, said in an email to candidates on 23rd November that “this afternoon I issued four interpretations and a ruling about the rule changes, with direct effect pertaining to this week’s elections… In summary, the alleged poll of Thursday 13 November has had no effect whatsoever on the Society’s Rules. In other words, the elections will be run under the rules as published in the nomination packs and indeed as they have been done for many terms now.” 

A copy of his interpretation says that; “I cannot allow the integrity of the Society’s elections to be called into question when I am able to ensure an increased degree of legitimacy by issuing a superior interpretation. As such, it falls to me to do whatever I can to preserve and maintain the integrity of the electoral process… as a servant of the Membership – not of the President, nor of Standing Committee – I am morally bound to intervene, since I am convinced that I am able to do so and that it will correct the situation. It is with a heavy heart that I note that these rule changes have been brought in such a way as to provoke considerable criticism and contention.”

His interpretation states that under rule 46 of the Union’s constitution, the calling of the poll did not follow the proper procedure, which requires a vote in front of the chamber, and for notice to be posted in the national press. It  is understood that previous rules changes involved having a one line advertisement on page 78 of The Times.

The OxStu understands that there is currently a dispute between senior Union figures, including Banerjee on whether the Returning Officer has the power to issue this interpretation. Reynolds’ interpretation states that he is given the power under rule 32e, which allow him seniority of interpretation over rules 32-38, those affecting elections.

President Banerjee has interpretative seniority over all other rules, including rules 47 and 67, which relate to the holding of a poll and changing of the Unions rules, and could issue his own interpretation which would challenge and potentially overrule Reynolds interpretation at any point, but wishes to seek advice from the Unions senior officers and a member of the Oxford literary and Debating Union Trust,  a charity comprised of the Unions trustees who own the Union’s buildings. Reynold’s contention is that as these rules changes directly affect his ability to conduct the elections under rule 32e (i) he has interpretative seniority, despite rules 47 and 67 technically falling under Banerjees remit.

It is understood that, Reynolds intends to run the upcoming election under the old rules regardless of Banerjees actions, and is supported by the majority of the deputy returning officers and former returning officers. One Ex-Returning Officer earlier gave his reasons for opposing the changes, stating “I believe that the changes should be used as a unique opportunity to crack down on – not to legitimate – the formation of the insidious electoral pacts known as ‘slates’. In my opinion, slates are a major contributor towards negative aspects of Union culture. As non-ideological bodies, they are united mainly by a mutual desire for personal electoral success.

The goal is to persuade potential candidates and voters that one side is good/competent, the other is evil/incompetent. This creates institutional incentives towards dishonesty, both within the slate, and between slate-members and their friends.”

One Union insider with knowledge of the situation alleged to the OxStu that “this is a power grab by the RO’s. Our proposed changes diminish their role in the election into little more than counting votes.”

Several candidates for senior positions have written a statement seen by the OxStu which endorses the rules changes stating; “we are the people who seemingly benefit the most from the Returning Officer’s blocking of electoral reform – it means that we do not have to face ‘Re-Open Nominations’ (‘RON’) and are automatically elected without having to receive a single vote.

“However, even though electoral reform removes our guaranteed positions, we are still arguing that change is the right thing. Not only do the reforms make the elections much more open and transparent, it is ridiculous that the decision of 92% of those who voted has been undemocratically overturned by one person.

“The reason you have never seen a statement like this, written by candidates for an election, is that the old rules forbid it. The committee has worked extremely hard to introduce long-overdue reform to these outdated rules. We nominated for election in the belief that we had finally succeeded in achieving this, but the recent undemocratic ruling makes it clear this is not the case. Nonetheless, we are committed to these reforms to make sure that this election, and all elections in future, are run the right way. We urge the Returning Officer to reconsider.”

The election is likely to be followed by a Senior Disciplinary Committee hearing, composed of former Presidents and Returning Officers, who will decide whether the disputed poll, and the rules changes they passed were in fact valid.”