After two years of uncontested elections, the Law School will go to the polls on October 17 and 18 to choose between three tickets vying to be the 2016-2017 SULS executive.
Amidst all the pre-election turbulence of backroom gossip and organising $750 worth of publicity material, the winds of electoral reform have filtered through the Law School over the best mechanism to elect the SULS executive comprised of 16 core positions. Additionally, five positions (including Queer, Equity and First Nations Officer) are appointed by the elected core executive.
The current system suffers from flaws, but not severely enough to justify radical reform towards the alternative of individual nominations which is crippled by undemocratic weaknesses.
The SULS constitution requires a minimum of eight women-identifying students to be in the elected executive. The only position that must be filled by a female-identifying student is the Women’s Officer. This can be contrasted with the UNSW Law Society’s gender-representative co-presidents model.
The process of electing ‘tickets’ is often criticised for attracting student cliques and degrading democratic process to mere popularity contests rather than a battle over policy, vision and representation.
A recent SULS ‘Call for Comment’ has sought public consultation on the issue. It suggests tickets are formed through meritocracy, based on “frequently looking at who is involved with SULS” listing examples of participation in subcommittees, sport and volunteering. Looking at the composition of both tickets; it’s clear SULS values engagement in its activities with Subcommittees, Law Revue, Publications and Competitions experience rounding out the majority of both tickets.
Yet, assertions of popularity misconstrue the system. Previous engagement with SULS, albeit limiting tickets to a smaller pool of the Law School, serve to guarantee a certain wealth of experience and commitment to SULS and ‘policy cohesion’. What is termed popularity in SULS tickets is in reality, a powerful reflection of the cross-section of the Law School.
Subservient to Law School democracy, the pressure on tickets to achieve the most ‘representative’ body of students is the greatest strength of the current system. This year seems to be emblematic of this focus on diversity, in terms of identity and degree progression. Even criticisms of tickets being ‘pro-establishment’, isolated to current SULS executives and subcommittee members, seems to have lessened this year. One ticket has no current executives.
The group oriented tickets legitimise support for each individual nominee. Tickets guarantee equitable participation through affirmative action, removing deterrents on participation such as the onerous burden of individual campaigning and the omission of a group-oriented support environment. In fact, 11 male and three female candidates were successful in the most recent UNSW Law Society election, where every position is individually elected.
The current system has its faults but adopting transparent mechanisms will address these without the radical shift towards individual elections.
To guarantee diversity – the essential foundation of democratic representation – ticket formation must substantially occur in plain view and not for the mere 31 people who clicked ‘going’ to the Facebook event of the SULS election ‘Candidates Information Session’ (a majority of which were SULS executives and active participants in SULS programs).
A procedural shift is necessary to redress current procedural opacity. The first is the implementation of the prospectus system (similar to the one in place at UNSW), one of six electoral models proposed in the Call for Comment, requiring presidential candidates to publish a prospectus, listing contact details, vision and experience, before reaching out to potential ticket members.
In addition, more media scrutiny of the process can only aid transparency (in an engaging medium) and help students be informed about the candidates without having to have personal connection with them.
But then again, perhaps I’m idealistic.