In the light of the recent Election Reform Referendum, The Edict’s Rithupar Pathy sits down with the newly sworn-in Chief Election Officer, Amola Mehta
Rithupar: Why did you want to become the election commissioner?
Amola: Elections on this campus until now haven’t been the most accommodating. They have preferred a certain type of politician. It prefers a person who can debate, be witty, snarky and out there. I do not think that is very democratic and there needs to be a change in the electoral process to make it more inclusive. Thus, I wanted to become the election commissioner.
Rithupar: Given your views, how do you plan on changing the structure of the debate?
Amola: The debate takes the flavour of the moderator of the debate. I would like to have moderators who aren’t doing it for the sake of the entertainment and drama but to help disseminate information through the debate and help the candidate bring out who they really are. Doing this would make sure that the debate serves its initial purposes and does not exist to merely entertain an audience.
Rithupar: So, what are your thoughts on the Swiss-PR system?
Amola: I like the Swiss-PR system. I was personally for it during the process of the referendum. I did not like the STV-PR, as one could not vote across party lines. On a campus like this which is only five years old, parties do not have rigid ideologies. What they have is a sense of community and what they have developed over a few years. Apart from that, there is not much setting apart parties in a student body that is very homogenous. Given that, the Swiss-PR makes it much easier to identify with parties which you have confidence in, in terms of what they do with their resources and community. It also allows you to identify people across party lines who do perform well, who are hard-working, deserve a place and are representative of the student body. You can’t have one party dominating.
Rithupar: Don’t you now think that there is an unfair advantage given to independents, considering they are guaranteed a spot in the debates? Each party can only give 1 or 2 individuals out of 15 such a platform during the electoral cycle.
Amola: I don’t think so. There are other resources which a party extends to individual candidates which independent candidates do not have access to. They are inherently worse off and thus the platform provided by the debate helps the make-up. Not bringing them in would have worse implications than having them there.
Rithupar: Are there any electoral reforms that you have in your mind?
Amola: Yes, we need to diversify the way in which elections happen. I don’t think that it should exclusively be about debates and the way in which people conduct themselves under pressure. It is important to some extent and doing away with debates in not fruitful. However, there are far more accommodating and less pressurising situations to put candidates in. After a certain point, debates don’t achieve much apart from gaining the attention of the general public. What is a must though is that candidates have the platforms to separate themselves from one another, given that parties don’t mean much in the larger sense other than the fact that they are communities. Given that, events like group discussions and interviews which bring the candidates closer to the people that will vote them in and be less formal are necessary. There must be information about them as people and how they are distinguished from other candidates in their own parties. There also need to be polls and response forms where people can raise issues they want to be talked about in debates and informal discussion sessions.
Rithupar: How do you plan on increasing voter turnout?
Amola: Voter turnout is a factor and result of many things. One of them is how engaging the electoral process is. Until now, the electoral process has been exclusive in terms of the people pushed through it. People who are popular and are able to speak well have been pushed to the top. Only those who like this sort of information and content have been engaged by the electoral process. When you diversify the electoral process, more interests will be catered to. This in itself will boost voter turnout. Also, the visuality of campaigns needs to be increased. Voters must be able to identify candidates and know the issues that they stand for and information about the candidates must also be pushed out through online platforms. This will provide more legitimate choices far more representative of the student body and people will engage with the electoral process more.