Maya Eswaran ‘locked out’ of preference deal

NLS, Centre Unity and Independent candidates join forces in the upcoming USU election.

Disclaimer: Honi Editors Lamya Rahman and Liam Donohoe are not involved in any decisions or contributions to USU Board Election coverage.

USU Board candidates Bec Miller, Connor Wherrett and Daniel Lee have today joined in a contentious three-way preference deal, which has sparked confrontations on Eastern Avenue.

The deal will see each of the three candidates preference the other two in inverse order: Lee will preference Miller second and Wherrett third; Miller will preference Wherrett second and Lee third; and Wherrett will preference Lee second and Miller third.

Miller belongs to Labor Left faction NLS and Wherrett is a member of Labor Right faction Centre Unity. Lee is an independent.

The deal has been attacked by left-wing group Grassroots, who suggest it is designed to “lock out” their candidate Maya Eswaran by diverting left-wing voters’ support to the Labor candidates.

NLS rejects this characterisation: Miller’s campaign manager and NLS stalwart Will Edwards told Honi that NLS wanted “as many left-wing Board directors as possible”. The deal, he said, recognised that Eswaran was already well-placed under the USU’s affirmative action policy. This year, the policy requires that at least two of the successful candidates must be people with a gender identity other than cis-male.

“This changes nothing in terms of Maya’s electability,” Edwards said.

Lee, who is central to the deal, said in yesterday’s election soapbox that he would not have used USU resources to support same-sex marriage equality.

When asked why socially progressive NLS would preference a candidate with those views, Edwards said “In my experience in fighting homophobia on campus, I’ve seen a lot of hatred and bigotry. I see none of that in Daniel. Lee just thinks the USU shouldn’t take a position on social issues.”

However, it doesn’t seem like all social issues are off limits for Lee; during the same soapbox yesterday he was happy for the USU to strike in support of workers’ rights.

Early this afternoon, the preference deal dispute spilled onto Eastern Avenue. NLS campaigners clashed with two of Eswaran’s managers, Pranay Jha and Liam Donohoe. Jha and Donohoe said they asked Miller “why are you doing a deal to screw over the left?”

A shouting match ensued.

“I absolutely won’t deny it was very aggressive”, Donohoe said, though stressing there were no personal insults. Nina Dillon Britton, another Eswaran campaign manager, said it was “an evenly matched fight”.

Edwards painted a different picture. “A group of Grassroots men stood around one of our first-year women while yelling,” he said.

Contentious though it is, the preference deal will deliver some breathing room for Wherrett. It seems NLS views his election as crucial for maintaining left-wing control of the Board.  If that control is lost, there is a chance Liberal Board Director Jacob Masina may be elected to the USU presidency later this semester.

Jha said that NLS had the USU executive elections in mind: “They told us that their priority was not getting Jacob elected to president.”

Currently, the likely contenders for the Board presidency are Masina and an independent, Liliana Tai. Board Director Adam Torres has at times also been mentioned as a possible candidate, though his support levels appear lower than those of either Masina or Tai. Torres is a member of NLS and is associated with Miller’s campaign.  

Preference deals are agreements between candidates about what they will print on their how-to-vote cards. These cards, which are handed out to voters, suggest the order in which the candidates should be voted for. Under the USU’s preferential voting system, voters then number their candidates from one to eight; there’s no obligation to follow a how-to-vote card’s suggested order.