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How to launch a campus coup

Step 6 will shock you!

So, you want to be SRC President. Maybe you crave the power. The validation. The minimum wage stipend. Trouble is, you know you could never win the election. Perhaps you’ve already lost one. Fortunately for you, the SRC Constitution could be surprisingly conducive to a campus autocrat, if handled with care. With a little finesse, a little amorality, and a little help from some high-placed friends, things might just go your way.

Here’s your handy guide to launching a hostile takeover of the Student Representative Council in 10 easy-to-follow steps. Individual results may vary.

You will need: 

  • 500 supporters
  • Good relations with the University Senate
  • Nerves of steel
  • Disdain for the democratic process
  • No moral compass
  • A power complex

Step 1: Gather your forces

Every budding dictator needs a power base — even the most absolutist autocrats didn’t get there alone. Fortunately, you don’t need the almost 3,000 votes of the winner of the last contested presidential election, or even the 2,500 of the loser. A mere 500 supporters will prove something of a magic number when it comes to dismissing key figures in your path to absolute power. Even for a B-tier NOC such as yourself, this shouldn’t be too high a hurdle to clear. Enlist them quietly, with promises of spoils and a new dawn of Freedom once you walk the SRC’s (single) corridor of power.

Step 2: Invent your excuse

Every coup needs a pretext. It’s important for maintaining a facade of legitimacy and a justification for control. Come up with some kind of grievance, any old thing will do. Ideally, it would be something incontrovertibly unconstitutional, which past councils, presidents and Honi Soit editors alike have overlooked for years. Something blatant, yet sufficiently inconsequential for anyone to care. After all, if it was a legitimate issue, this wouldn’t be a brazen power grab now, would it?

Your key to victory lies in Part 6, s.4 (d) of the SRC Regulations: “The President shall present the editors of Honi Soit with a written report prior to the publication of each issue. The report shall be printed on a facing page within the first nine pages [of] Honi Soit, and shall be a minimum of ten point typesetting.” The President’s Report has not been published within the first nine pages of Honi Soit for over a decade. Even within this very week’s edition, you will find it on page 24.

With such an egregious breach of regulations to hand, you can set about astroturfing. Send letters to Honi, publish some USyd Rants. Complain much but resolve little. You must create the impression of a genuine movement as a guise for the sudden emergence of your 500 disciplined loyalists. Avoid at all costs the premature resolution of your chosen grievance — you’ll need it to be in play when you make your move.

Step 3: Depose the President

Time to get this show on the road now that your justification is well publicised and your supporters are ready to strike. Under s.4 (e) of the SRC Constitution, the President can be summarily dismissed upon the receipt of a petition signed by 500 members of the student body, and a vote at a duly convened General Meeting of the Student Body. With a significant and organised faction of 500 at your back, success should be assured. Timing will be critical here. Dismiss the President in Semester 2, and the Council can simply appoint an Acting President as their replacement under s.4 (f). But act in Semester 1, and a byelection must instead occur. You needn’t make plans to participate — unbeknownst to the others, this byelection will never take place. You are simply playing for time.

Step 4: Activate your foreign backers

Like many coups, yours is to be dependent on a meddlesome foreign power. You require an ally outside the world of domestic Stupol — one whose interests are so fundamentally opposed to the SRC that they will back you to the bitter end. The University Senate is an ideal co-conspirator. They will be your CIA, the external operator who will recognise your supremacy and enable your despotism in exchange for a pliant SRC that stops interfering with their plans. Conveniently, s.18 (b) of the Constitution provides the Senate with just the reserve powers you need for your very own John Kerr moment.

With the SRC now in chaos and the Presidency vacant, place a call to your friend the Vice-Chancellor. Demand an investigation into your President’s Report ‘grievance’. S.18 (b) subsumes the Constitution under Senate Resolution 284/06 (since superseded by the Student Associations Policy 2020), which empowers the VC to investigate “governance misfeasance” at the SRC. Given that a General Meeting of the Student Body saw fit to dismiss a President over your Part 6, s.4 (d) complaint, the VC should oblige without hesitation. Once the investigation inevitably reveals endemic neglect of Part 6, s.4 (d), the VC will be empowered to appoint an “administrator with power to manage the student association’s affairs.”

Step 5: Install yourself as President

With the Administrator secretly in your pocket, put yourself forward as the perfect outsider to take the troubled reins of power and bring Order to campus. “Conducting the upcoming presidential byelection will surely result in the election of yet another Part 6, s.4 (d)-ignoring politician,” you will explain to the Administrator. Over a decade of neglect is evidence enough of that. Besides, you will have on hand a convenient petition calling for your instatement, signed by 500 members of the student body (your 500 cronies, naturally) to demonstrate a clear mandate to address the rampant mismanagement which has, for years, unconstitutionally demoted the President’s report to the back pages of Honi Soit. The populace never responds well to an ambitious coup mastermind. But a reluctant leader with a popular mandate? Well … that’s just the will of the people now, isn’t it?

Step 6: Shut down Honi Soit

Every dictator worth their jackboots knows that control of information is everything. Muzzling the free press on campus is critical. Honi’s irreverent reporting is much too dangerous to be left unchecked, and the ten editors will never take your undemocratic putsch quietly. You need people more used to working under a corporate structure. Have the Administrator compel the SRC to provide the Honi Facebook password, take the website offline and draft in former editors of some more pliant off-campus publications to run the show.

Step 7: Scupper the Council

Now for the legislature. Your options here are fairly wide and can be exercised to fit the situation. Under s.3 (h)(i) of the Constitution, you can direct your band of 500 to dismiss individual representatives that cause you trouble, in the same manner as you deposed the President. Or, if you prefer a more top-down approach, the Administrator under the Student Associations Policy 2020 (now your right-hand man) can dismiss “any or all” office bearers at will. Wielding this Sword of Damocles ought to bring those who would seek to dethrone you in line.

Even better, any decision a recalcitrant Council attempts to make against you can be stalled by your 500 loyalists. Under s.15 (a) of the Constitution, a referendum on any Council decision can be forced by a petition signed by 450 students, and “shall delay the operation of the decision of the Council until it has been voted upon.” By abusing such referenda, you will be able to transform the once-mighty Council into a lame duck, and significantly slow its operation even if the eventual result of each referendum does not ultimately swing your way.

Step 8: Announce yourself to your new subjects

Next up, hearts and minds. Make an address to students, to be carried on Facebook Live by a reorganised Honi Soit that is now firmly under your heel. Reassure the populace. Condemn the instability and neglect of the past. Promise new democratic elections in 18 months once voter rolls are ‘audited’, the ‘will of the students’ can be guaranteed, and those who treacherously ignored Part 6, s.4 (d) of the regulations are sidelined. Feel free to promise that you won’t stand for reelection — you can always change your mind once ‘the people’, as reported in your new Honi, call on you to stay.

Step 9: Deal with any dissent

From here on, things are pretty smooth sailing. With the Senate at your back, campus at your feet, and campus security as your iron fist, there is little that can stop you. Swipe card access for any dissenters can be revoked, troublemakers removed from SRC premises and even academic misconduct proceedings raised if you play your cards right with your new friends over at F23. Your 500 core supporters are always on call if more dismissals are required, but be warned — you’ve given them a taste of power, and they might just bite the hand that feeds if you are not wary.

Step 10: Sit back, relax, and watch your back

The rest is child’s play. Purge the voter rolls, rig electoral regulations, even rewrite the Constitution if you wish. You’re in charge now, go wild! You’re the new SRC — Supreme Ruler of Council — and nothing can stand in your way. That is, until the next coup. Perhaps you should’ve thought of that before. Thus always to tyrants.

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