By Anushree Pratap (UG ‘23) and Ishita Ahuja (UG ‘23) A survey conducted from August 6
by Aggam Walia (UG’22)
TW: Sexual harassment
The Ashoka University Election Commission announced on Saturday that the campaign period for the upcoming by-elections would commence on 13th September, Monday. Interested candidates will be able to file in their nomination on the same day until the 20th of September. By-elections for an unconfirmed number of HoR seats will be held on the 1st and 2nd of October. The AUEC has scheduled several events during the campaign period like the Candidates’ Debate, a ‘Meet the Interim Student Government’ session and a ‘Why Stand’ townhall.
Chief Election Officer Ayush Bahl says that the Commission’s current priority is to have a functioning House as soon as possible. “Many members of the ISG intend to quit. That would mean that the House strength would fall below 7, possibly to 5 members. I understand that the schedule is tight, but our priority is to fill the House at the earliest,” he says.
Bahl informs The Edict that the EC has received “a flurry of resignations” but all resigning members will stay put till the day of voting. “We haven’t yet calculated the total number of representatives who will be resigning. The by-elections will be conducted for a minimum of eight seats, but we cannot confirm the final number at the moment. We will announce that shortly,” he adds.
According to the AUEC, all three parties– Prakrit, Dhamma and Tarz are currently on the party registry. In July, Dhamma announced its intention to disband soon after a new House is elected. “Since the interim SG is currently working on very low manpower, our current members in the House wish to work until a new House is elected,” it said in a statement sent to the student body. The Commission says that Dhamma may get an inactive status soon, but at the moment, it is considered active. “We don’t have any formal confirmation from any other party regarding their potential dissolution,” the Commission adds.
On Sunday, in an email sent to the student body, the AUEC opened the Party Registration Form. “We encourage new parties to get registered. The EC is all for it. However, it’s all up to the student body,” Bahl says.
According to a recent amendment to the Election Code, the by-elections will follow a Modified Swiss Proportional Representation system, similar to the one used in regular elections. The AUEC has not introduced any procedure to background check potential candidates for past allegations of sexual harassment. “Our priority was to enact reforms first, but it was tough for the House as only 7 of 15 seats were occupied. We need to remember that the EC only has advisory power. We will be pushing for reforms continuously, but it will be up to the new House,” Bahl says. He adds that the Commission worked on a grievance redressal mechanism but could not formally propose it as it infringed upon the confidentiality clause. “We are reworking it. We will work on the House Oversight (Ethics) Committee and the referendum on the electoral system after the by-elections,” he says.
Commission members say that in case not enough people stand for by-elections, they may modify the EQ to make it easier for those standing to get it. “We will take a call on it if and when the situation arises. It entirely depends on how things turn out. We will have to look at the constitutionality of it. The EC cannot act arbitrarily and has to remain impartial. Every option is on the table and will be discussed with the ISG,” it adds.
The provision to conduct by-elections was passed as an amendment to the electoral code on 10th September. The amendment states that a request from the President of the HoR can enable the EC to conduct by-elections for a given number of vacant seats. Responding to whether a President can misuse the power to call for by-elections to favour their party, the EC responds that the default step is to fill the vacant seat up in the regular fashion– by calculating the new EQ and offering it to the next eligible candidate. “This needs to be used as an emergency provision. Still, the HoR has the power to overturn the President’s authority. It will check the misuse of power,” the EC says.
After the seats are filled, the House will continue to lead the Interim Student Government till regular elections are held in February. With students moving back to campus and issues like cross-access returning to the foray, the EC hopes that the by-elections will enable the House to better represent the student body.