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Turnout in SU elections hits five-year low

A measly 13% of all Queen Mary students turned out to vote in the recent Students’ Union elections, the lowest percentage in at least five years. Only 3,305 students cast their votes online compared to 5,475 last year.

Despite the Students’ Union’s efforts to boost engagement, with a new-style Question Time in Mile End and a Speaker’s Corner in Library Square, overall engagement in this year’s elections was below previous years, with half of the paid executive officer positions being uncontested by the time election week came.

At the start of the campaign, there were 13 candidates running for executive officer positions however three later dropped out.

Overall dropout rates dwarfed previously years, which peaked 2016 when almost a third of candidates running dropped out over the course of the campaign. It is estimated that just over ten candidates officially dropped out this year. However, this figure does not accurately take into account the number of candidates who unofficially drop out; those who stop campaigning without informing the Students’ Union that they wish to be removed from the ballot paper.

Out of the part-time positions, five roles all based at Barts had nobody nominated as a candidate and there were a higher number of roles that had only one person running for them compared to last year.

Unlike previous years, the role of BLSA President was closely contested by three women. After the third stage of eliminations, it was fourth year medical student Megan Annetts who won the position on her platform of ensuring the new ‘Report and Support’ system for tackling hate on campus is well signposted and lobbying the university to provide advice and counselling services on the Whitechapel campus.

Talhah Atcha was named QMSU President 2019-20 as he was left the last man standing after the other two candidates dropped out. He received three quarters of the votes cast, as one quarter of voters said they would rather re-open nominations than vote Atcha.

VP Education was won by Annika Ramos who, despite not being the only candidate running for the role, was the only candidate who created a manifesto, sent details to the Students’ Union and actively campaigned. In her term as VP Education Ramos plans to regularly update QReview in every course and review the rules around extenuating circumstances, making it easy for those with caring responsibilities and long-term conditions to apply for.

The new style of Question Time at Mile End held at the beginning of voting week was poorly attended as only cross-campus and executive officer candidates were invited to answer questions rather than anyone running for a Mile End position. This was done to speed up the hustings as they had previously been criticised for lasting over three hours in previous years.

Khizar Azam was elected Student Council chair in the second stage. He was recently asked whether he felt he knew enough about Student Council to do the role as he has not previously sat on it before. He replied, “I don’t have the experience but I have a very good connection with the Students’ Union. This is not just about knowing Student Council, it’s about knowing students and I have a strong network of friends in different societies and of different backgrounds so I believe I can be a good representative.”

On Twitter, Queen Mary students have speculated why there was less engagement this year. Some think this speaks to a wider trend of democratic fatigue as there have been seemingly endless elections and referendums in recent years. Others reckon students would have been more enthusiastic about the SU elections if there were more candidates running for the major roles.

The poor engagement will inevitably play a part in the democracy review currently being undertaken by Queen Mary Students’ Union which will eventually see a reformation of Student Council and possibly a student board being created in Mile End to parallel that of BLSA board.

Find full coverage on our elections blog:

Listen to our verdict on the QMSU elections in the latest episode of our podcast. Search ‘The Print Podcast’ on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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