As Featured on Smoke Radio

Jamal Achchi, the outgoing VP of Regents & Little Titchfield street, tonight made the decision to post onto Facebook an endorsement for each of the different posts. His statement publicly endorsed 4 of the Your 5 candidates and one of the Hi5 slate.

“Okay… So upon deep thought, having read all the manifestos, having watched all the debates again, I’ve come to a final decision as to whom I will be endorsing, and who I feel are the best candidates…” Jamal Achchi – VP Of Regents & Little Titchfield Street

He yesterday posted to get a feel of what people’s opinion was on his plans to go public at which point he was warned he may be in breach of the rules and was reminded by others that doing so he could potentially:

“(You might) influence the students quite strongly and considering it is the students’ choice, might not be the most ethical decision. Your experience as a VP for the past 2 years is undoubtedly valuable, but you need to think of the impact” – Ana-Maria Paun – PR Student at Westminster
 

The first comment he received told him he would likely be in breach of the rules, however today he posted that he had ‘Received confirmation that I am within my rights to endorse candidates’. So despite warning his opinion could majorly alter public opinion he went ahead anyway. And by doing so, he appears to have broken the rules. The document ‘Protocol for staff during the election period’ that was written and distributed in February 2013 to make Staff and the Sabbatical team, ‘aware of the standards expected from them’ clearly states:

“c. Union Staff may not take part in public discussion of, nor give public expression to, views concerning the Union’s elections or candidates therein.

d. No member of Union Staff may help with a candidate’s campaign.

e.Union Staff are not allowed to show favouritism to any particular candidate.

  1. No badges, stickers, pins, t-shirts or candidate promotion material can be worn by staff.
  2. No comments, remarks or forwarding of other people’s comments should be made on social media
  3. Staff should “unfriend” or “unfollow” candidates on social media websites during the campaigning process unless it is required for administrative purposes”

At first read I can imagine that arguably Sabbatical officers are not ‘back end’ staff members and this may not apply. However early in the document the scope of who these rules are applied to is set out as follows:

Scope of this protocol

This protocol covers all staff and officers who are identifiable as being part of the management structures of the union. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Trustee board members
  • Student officers (who are not standing for election – see constitution for students standing for re-election)
  • Full time staff of the union
  • Staff contracting to the union
  • Consultants working on behalf of the union
  • Other staff”

This clearly states that Jamal, as a Student officer is not allowed to comment, endorse or take part in public discussion around the debate. Whether intentional or not posting to your Facebook page publicly, is commenting and taking part in public discussion. However even if it was kept private, he has still shown favoritism to candidates. Whomever Jamal received confirmation from, according to this protocol, seems to have been very much in the wrong.

Jamal was also the Smoke TV’s ‘Big Debate’ presenter, along with Smoke TV News’ Hanan Abdel-Khalek. The debate filmed on Tuesday and uploaded to YouTube since has already had many questions raised about it. As with any debate accusations of bias have been bounced around. As in much media it is impossible to pinpoint this as it is largely down to perception. However another clear rule that was broken on Tuesday night was:

“g. Union staff may attend the candidate’s hustings but are not able to ask questions or provide comment on the answers.”
 

Not only Did Jamal leading the debate contravene this, but both Jenny Ybanez (Outgoing VP of Harrow) and Jenny Chan (Outgoing VP of Marylebone) asked questions during the audience question time. Many of the candidates on the night questioned this practice and indeed when Jenny Chan is viewed on camera she can be seen holding a ‘Your 5’ election leaflet. In this instance it seems the night broke the rules with Jamal running the night. Now Jamal has declared allegiance to 5 of the candidates, it poses serious questions about his ability to be un-biased on that evening.

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 10.49.11 PMAt first defence he does state in his post that he had made this decision with what happened at the debate in mind. However one of the Presidential candidates has revealed to us that in 2 meetings with Jamal Achchi about their potential running Jamal stated that the candidate ‘Could run if they want to’ but that Kaled Mimouni had a ‘More viable’ chance of winning. Although this does not state a physical allegiance at that time it clearly shows that Jamal, who wasn’t allowed to question candidates anyway, had prior opinions about candidates and the election before hosting this years debate. With poor attendance on the night, and most students relying on the YouTube’d debate as their main, if not only source of Election coverage, is this good reason to consider postponing the vote due to take place next week?

Complaints have been made to the Returning officer who runs the election, who ultimately decides whether this has been a breach of the rules, and what action should be taken. The Guiding Principles of the Elections policy, available on uwsu.com also states that “Ignorance will not normally be considered a defence” meaning if the information Jamal was given, was incorrect he could still be held accountable for breaching the rules.

The Smoke TV debate massively overrun and the audience chances to ask questions were cut short. This left many crucial questions left unanswered  – like the mismanagement of Student Union funds that have left the body with No money already (a month before the end of the financial year), What Candidates would do for Disabled Students, LGBT students who suffer Homophobia on the Marylebone Campus and why there were No female candidates. And many students who stayed for the 5 hour process unable to ask their question can this election be classed fair, open, transparent and thorough?

If you wish to view the Protocol for Staff during the Election Period we have made it available here

Jamal Achchi responded to this article. He asked that the response that was originally posted here be created as a separate article which we have posted here