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OUCA election in disarray as two people claim presidency

The election of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) has been put in disarray as the Association’s ousted President emailed the entire OUCA membership claiming an election held yesterday was invalid.

Caleb van Ryneveld, the Association’s President prior to his suspension last month, emailed the members of OUCA from an unofficial email account. He claimed that Acting President Peter Walker and Returning Officer Jake Dibden were ignoring the authority of the Association’s Senior Member, who on 24 May issued a decree annulling van Ryneveld’s suspension.

The decree stated that Walker was “in no position to appoint himself President for Trinity 2023”.

Van Ryneveld continued by claiming that, in accordance with the Senior Member’s decree, the appointment process for the Returning Officer would be re-run since “an amiable resolution has not been possible”. He alleged that Dibden was therefore not the Returning Officer and had no authority to call or preside over an OUCA election.

He claimed that Council, OUCA’s governing body, voted by 11 votes to 2 abstentions to invoke Rule 4(10) of OUCA’s constitution.

The rule, concerning elections in extraordinary circumstances, empowers the President and Returning Officer to hold an emergency election if regular operations are impaired. They would require the support of two-thirds of Council, which van Ryneveld seemingly achieved.

Following the election of Franek Bednarski as the President-Elect of OUCA, van Ryneveld again stated that the election had “no constitutional legitimacy and is not determinative of the Officers to serve next term”. Van Ryneveld and other committee members also attempted to remove ballot boxes from the Crown Pub, the location of the election, before a physical “intervention” meant that they were left with Dibden.

This follows van Ryneveld’s initial claim that, in light of the committee vote, the OUCA election would be delayed until 15 June, with nominations opening a week before on 8 June and closing on 10 June. He ended his communication by stating that “any attempt to hold an OUCA election before [15 June] is unconstitutional and will have no legitimacy”.

Van Ryneveld also alleged that procedures for candidates to appoint representatives to the election count were improper, with “scant representation” and without the “usual oversight to ensure a fair electoral process”. He also alleged that the rule to have a secret ballot had been breached, as Dibden “recorded identifying information for each voter on a spreadsheet, enabling him to determine how each member voted”.

Juan Dávila, President of OUCA during Michaelmas 2022 and a current Deputy Returning Officer, released a statement to social media in response to van Ryneveld’s first email. He clarified that the election was not delayed and would take place as planned on 8 June from 12-6pm at the Crown Pub on Cornmarket Street.

Dávila continued that van Ryneveld’s unofficial email account “carries no weight and has no mechanism for verification”, since all OUCA email communications must come from accounts listed on their website. He stated that the sender of the email could be “anyone” since the University database contains the OUCA mailing list.

The ex-President concluded by stating that “it is most regretful that someone has tried to strip you of your right to vote, and the thought that anyone would claim legitimacy by stopping the election with a midnight email 12 [hours] before the vote is revolting. We will not let this happen.”

He ended his communication by encouraging OUCA members to exercise their right to vote in the election to “demonstrate that this ill-concocted scheme will not work”.

According to the OUCA constitution, the Senior Member is the “last court of appeal in respect of any decision by an officeholder or body of this Association regardless of any other Rules within this constitution. The Senior Member’s decision shall be final.”

Therefore, while the legitimacy of van Ryneveld’s email from an unofficial account is up for debate, the Senior Member’s decree is not.

However, some members of the Disciplinary Committee have raised concerns about the Senior Member’s implementation of OUCA rules. One senior officer told Cherwell that “the relationship between the DC and the Senior Member has always been cordial, although this ruling goes beyond the realms of her constitutional power”.

Caleb van Ryneveld was suspended from the presidency on 14 May after announcing that a motion of no confidence had been called in his leadership. Peter Walker, OUCA’s President-Elect, then became Acting President.

On 18 May van Ryneveld was formally removed from office by the Association’s Disciplinary Committee, which considered “allegations brought by a corporate complaint” against him.

The controversy that led to the no confidence motion was an email van Ryneveld sent on 12 May calling for reform of OUCA’s constitution to promote “transparency and faith” in elections of OUCA officers. He specifically mentioned the selection of Jake Dibden as the Association’s Returning Officer as a sign of this constitutional “crisis”.

It remains to be seen whether this conflict between OUCA leaders will result in the more transparent constitution that van Ryneveld originally proposed. The election he attempted to delay ultimately went ahead as planned on 8 June, with Franek Bednarski being elected OUCA’s President-Elect.

Regarding his claimed reinstatement as President, van Ryneveld previously commented to The Oxford Student: “I am pleased to have been vindicated on appeal by the ruling of the Senior Member of OUCA, which has annulled the Disciplinary Committee’s sentence in full.

“I will resume my position and duties as the duly elected President and I look forward to working with my committee to continue to deliver our extensive termcard for the membership. Recent events demonstrate the need for real reform within OUCA, and I will continue to promote due process and increased democratic accountability across all bodies of the association.”

Caleb van Ryneveld, Peter Walker, and Jake Dibden have all been approached for comment.