Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 12. 1969.
Opinion — Bill Logan — Exec and Democracy
Exec and Democracy
Tonight the Students' Association is to try to come to some important decisions about its future. The people who run it have glimpsed the fact that the present set-up is a farce, but they know not why or how. The truth, of course, is that it pretends to be democratic.
It holds elections for those of its positions to which people are not appointed unopposed. Up to one third of students vote, and thence it is pretended that the officers and men are representative of the student body. In fact, of course, not only are those who do not vote unrepresented, but those who do are misrepresented. Voting, where it is not irrational, based on candidates' photographs, or otherwise non-politics, is on the basis of the candidates' policies. These seldom have any relation whatever to the powers inhering in the positions contested.
The range of issues coming before the executive are so wide, and on the whole so mundane, that no honest campaign policy can deal with them either adequately or interestingly enough to win the election. Thus, by trying to appeal to the widest possible electorate we get the worst possible results. Just look at the present Executive.
Fundamental questions obviously have to be asked.
First: How important is that kind of democracy in which those who are not interested determine decisions which affects only a few who are?
Second: How can a single group of people elected at one time for the one major purpose of administering the affairs of one almost powerless body come to adequate decisions on a range of issues including matters academic, cultural, sporting and political?
Third: How seriously is anyone going to take voting when most of the power of that vote is indirect? The real power of the executive is to appoint people to certain committees of the University administration.
Fourth: How is anyone going to take seriously voting in elections to a body which has delegated its only real teeth (never as world-rippingly sharp as it would like to believe) to a Sports Council, a Cultural Affairs Council, and a Publications Board, for which such democratic forms of member-selection as exist deceive nobody? (They do ensure at least Some of the administering will be done by some of the people who are Interested.)
The problem with these questions is that they point to no clear solution. But they do point to a central problem from which some partial solutions can be drawn. The central problem is that the present constitution of the Students' Association achieves much of the appearance of representivity in democracy, at the expense of honesty in democracy. It would not seem important to represent the uninterested, but it would seem important that nobody was under the illusion that their vote was likely to lead to a decision that it was in fact unlikely to lead to. The powers and functions of elected officials should be known to those who vote, so they cannot be fooled.
In practical terms this requires many of the powers of the present executive to he given hack to the interested electorate. I would suggest that the interested electorate should meet in the form of a Student Representation Committee consisting of any student who wanted to go along.
This body and this alone should have power, for instance, to make the Association's policy and to make appointments to such bodies as the University Council, The Professorial Board, the Student Union Committee.
The rest of the functions of the Executive should be split up by the SRC among other bodies that it may control from time to time. Thus members of the Publications Board, for example, would actually be elected rather than self-appointed as they are today.