Student Government Elections: A Layperson's Guide to Elections at Ashoka University

Edited By: Kartika Puri

Come late January and the beginning of the Spring Semester, the air is charged with excitement and anticipation. For in Ashoka University, this period marks the beginning of a new election cycle. The House of Representatives (HoR) prepares to vacate their seats for the new members that are to be elected by the student body. The process of their election is long and arduous albeit a very rewarding one.

The electoral process at Ashoka borrows from the processes of various other institutions. Yet, it introduces elements that make it unique to the needs of the university. And what does this typical election cycle look like? Here is a layperson’s guide to it:

Political Parties and Candidates

In Ashoka, the formation of the Student Government and various aspects of its functioning take inspiration from the larger system of governance in India wherein political parties field candidates for the elections and people vote for the people they believe will work for towards improving their quality of life. The elected individuals will then form the government.

Like many other institutions across the world, the university is home to people hailing from various backgrounds and ideologies. Students who believe they have a very similar outlook on college life and share the same goals for the university form political parties. Over the years, we have seen many parties come and go. This year, Dhamma, Moksh and Prakrit contested in the elections.

Well before the election season begins, the Election Commission (EC), consisting of a Chief Election Commissioner and two other Election Commissioners, begin to map out how to execute an efficient and fruitful election cycle. They create a timeline of various election-related events and are responsible for planning and organising debates and the voting process on the day of the election.

However, affiliation to a political party is not a prerequisite to winning a seat in the HoR. Students can stand as Independent Candidates with their own aims and aspirations without an official party backing them.

A few weeks before the elections, the EC releases the Candidates List to the student body This list comprises of all the students who are eligible to be voted into the House. Considering that only 15 members of each political party can make it to the Candidates List, internal dialogue (and very often, internal elections) are held to decide who makes it to the list. The EC also decide the order of the appearance of the selected members’ names.

Campaigning Period

When the EC waves the green flag, the campaigning period commences. The candidates and parties use various platforms and medium to promote their goals. Posters are seen all around campus. Posts about elections start to appear on social media feeds. Candidates always find innovative ways in which they can improve their visibility amongst the student community.

Perhaps the most critical part of the campaigning period is the Manifesto. The Manifesto is a document that contains a comprehensive list of agendas the individual/party will work on if they are voted into the house. The students to hold their elected representatives accountable also use it. Therefore, the Manifesto serves as a tool to ensure that members of the Student Government keep their promises to the people.

Debates

The purpose of the debates is not only to give political parties and independent candidates visibility but also to see how they interact with one another. This is to understand further their stance on various pressing issues on campus and see how they intend to achieve the goals they have set out for themselves. Often there are three sets of debates:

  1. The Accountability Debate: During this debate, members of the previous HoR are made to answer questions about their term. It begins with the members making a statement about their respective parties, and continues into a moderated discussion. These members are then expected to answer questions raised by the Moderator and the audience.
  2. The Candidates Debate: This debate is meant to help deepen the student body’s understanding of the aims and aspirations of all the candidates. Two members of each political party and the independent candidates are given a spotlight at this event. Each gives a statement and answers questions from the audience.
  3. The Presidential Debate: The most important debate and event during the election season is the Presidential Debate. During this debate, the prospective presidential candidates are expected to relay their expectations and hopes for the upcoming year. Cross-questioning amongst the candidates, answering the moderator and the audience’s questions are all key aspects of the debate. Its end generally marks the end of the campaigning period.

Voting

On the day of the voting, students make their way to booths located in the residence halls across campus. They can either vote for one party, the particular members of a party, an independent candidate or None of the Above (NOTA). An overwhelming number of NOTA votes would force the EC to consider re-election. Given the decreasing voter-turnout, this year the EC decided to make it easier for students to vote. During the first set of elections for the HoR, there was a voter turnout of 92%. This statistic fell to 54% during last year’s elections, which disappointed many, especially the EC. Therefore, this year, the commission provided each student with a unique link to vote, thereby ensuring that they are not discouraged by a lack of time or convenience to get to one’s nearest booth.

The Announcement of Results

Since the process of voting is computerised, the computation of results is relatively simpler. However, the EC conducts a rigorous verification process in order to identify if there are not any inconsistencies with the results. The IT Head of the EC checks for any bugs or inconsistencies in the computation of the results by the program used for voting. The student body is then invited into a room where the results are revealed. The room is filled with excitement. While there is some disappointment from the candidates who lost the election, the anticipation for what is it to come overwhelms all.

After the election is completed, the EC requests parties to submit their final presidential candidates' names. Once the members of the House come together, they appoint their President by internal elections. Later, candidates pitch for the various Cabinet portfolios (Campus Life Ministry, Cultural Ministry, Academic Affairs Ministry, etc.). By voting, the Cabinet is formed and the HoR is ready to put their best foot forward in making the upcoming year an eventful, efficient and exciting one for the Ashoka community. Each of them strives to achieve the promises they made, and overcome the obstacles and challenges that come their way to lead by example.

As Sam Houston once rightly said, “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.” From all of us here at Her Campus, we hope that the new HoR has a fulfilling and productive term ahead.