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How law tamed charged varsity student elections

Saturday January 27 2018

STUDENT ELECTIONS

University of Nairobi students burn the Students Organisation of Nairobi University's office on April 4, 2016 over disputed election. The Universities Act 2016 provides for the election of student leaders through electoral college. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

OUMA WANZALA
By OUMA WANZALA
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On Tuesday last week, election of student leaders at Moi University in Eldoret took place.

Unlike the past elections where every vote counted, this time around it was only 34 delegates from the institution that converged at the main campus to elect the new leadership.

Thanks to the Universities Act 2016, which provides for the election of student leaders through electoral college as opposed to all students participating in the exercise.

During the election, Isaac Choge was elected chairman of Moi University Students Association after getting 22 votes.

CANDIDATES
Prior to the final vote, elections of delegates was conducted in all campuses on January 19.

Before the polls in the afternoon, candidates who were seeking various positions were given an opportunity to seek votes before presenting their agenda to the delegates.

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After the presentation, candidates and delegates took a break of about 30 minutes and returned in the afternoon for voting, which was by secret ballot presided over by school election board comprising of students.

The key contestants in the race for the chairmanship that had of nine candidates were Mr Choge and Mike Ingabi.

LAW

In first round the two candidates tied with 14 votes each while other contestants shared the rest of the votes.

In the second round Mr Choge beat Mr Ingabi with 22 votes against 12.

This is the new mode of electing leaders in universities that has taken route following the signing into law the Universities Amendment Bill in 2016 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Universities also had time to review the constitution of students associations in order to align it to the new law.

University of Nairobi students are also set to go through a similar process in electing their leaders in March.

POLITICS
Already commissioners who will preside over the election have been selected to help in election of delegates across all schools.

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology students will also elect their leaders in March.

The current student association chairman Asman Omondi Robinson says the new law of election of students in universities has watered down the exercise.

“The popular vote was real politics but the new approach is about strategy,” Mr Omondi says, adding that students will have to live with the new law.

SIMPLE MAJORITY
However, he says the processes should not be an issue since those who are keen to serve students can still do it irrespective of the process of their election.

Kenyatta University students held their elections in November last year and Wickliffe Kipsang was elected chairman.

“Those who want to lead must get 50 per cent plus one of the delegates, failure to which there will be a re-run.

"The winner finally gets it through a simple majority. We have 57 delegates and the winner for any position must get 30 delegates,” Mr Kipsang adds.

CAMPAIGNS
However, he bemoans the decision ‘to deny’ students an opportunity to elect their leaders directly since those elected as delegates have the liberty to elect whoever they want.

Mr Kipsang says the previous high-charged campaigns and rallies similar to political rallies in the country are no more.

“The new system teaches us lobbying, it’s like election of the speaker in Parliament.

"Comrades have no influence on who delegates vote for. It, however, provides for ethnic and regional balance, two-third gender rule and elected members should be diverse, as opposed to previous one where the winning group would even come from one region,” he adds.

RIGGING
However, he says Nasa and Jubilee politics cannot be ruled out in the election process but says even if it’s there, its impact is minimal as previously politicians used to openly meddle in the affairs of the students.

Cliff Manono who is the interim student leader at the University of Nairobi supports the new system.

“The previous system was characterised by violence and issues of rigging,” Mr Manono says.

Daphin Githuku, a student at the University of Nairobi who is seeking to head University of Nairobi Students Association (UNSA), formerly Students Organisation of Nairobi University (Sonu), says all students now have the opportunity to seek elective positions without looking at their background in terms of finance or region.

BABU OWINO
In 2016, the University of Nairobi students went on rampage over disputed Sonu election results, which declared Paul Ongili, now Embakasi East MP, as chairman for a fourth time.

Mr Owino’s opponent, Mike Jacobs, claimed that Mr Owino was involved in election malpractices.

According to the Act, the students association is to be governed by a students council comprising a chairperson and a vice chairperson who must be of opposite gender, a treasurer, a secretary-general who is the secretary to the council, and three other members to represent special interests of students.

ELECTORAL COLLEGES
Those elected in leadership positions must reflect national diversity; and have not more than two-thirds of its members being of the same gender.

The students association must constitute itself into electoral colleges based on either academic departments, schools or faculties.

“The students of each electoral college constituted under subsection (1c) shall elect three representatives from amongst persons who are not candidates under subsection (1a); and of whom not more than two-thirds shall be of the same gender.

"The representatives of each electoral college shall elect the members of the student council within 30 days of the election under subsection (1d),” the Act says.
A member of the student council is required to hold office for a term of one year and may be eligible for re-election for one final term.