Independent candidates face uphill battle

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Ton Zhou/Staff

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For many UC Berkeley students, ASUC election season is a blur of bobbing blue and green rectangles and yellow exclamation points. A majority of candidates rely on refined campaign strategies and access to readily available networks and resources. But for independent candidates, taking the road less traveled has its share of advantages.

Of the 65 students vying for an ASUC Senate seat, only Naweed Mohabbat, Taliah Mirmalek, James Chang and Raman “the Dictator” Veerappan have no party affiliation. A fifth candidate, Solomon Nwoche, recently formed his own party, “Independent Campaign for Common Sense.”

Despite having different platforms, passions and political bases of support, most of these candidates have a similar desire to avoid the “party politics” that could halt progress in the ASUC.

Historically, a successful campaign sans party affiliation is much more difficult to pull off. Since the 2005-06 academic year, only once has there been more than one independent senator, in  2009-10. Other than the position of student advocate, which has gone to a nonpartisan candidate since Student Action held the seat in 2001-02, an independent candidate has never won an executive position.

Mohabbat, a second-year political economy major and public policy and Middle Eastern studies double minor, said that unlike other candidates, he did not have a large pool of volunteers or quite as much name recognition on campus. He said, however, that there is more to winning a campaign than that.

“It’s refreshing for students who are tired of the big parties,” Mohabbat said. “We have posters as well, but we also have the liberty in choosing what we put out. We aren’t told what to do, and we run our own campaigns. I think that’s important.”

Nwoche, who is a transfer student, seeks a “common sense” approach to addressing campus and community issues. He had a more pointed criticism of party politics.

“I feel like the two main political parties, Student Action and CalSERVE, have significantly failed us because they only focus on groups that relate to their specific coalition or Greek house,” Nwoche said. “My platforms in particular represent the transfer community, student groups at large, women at large and all students at large.”

Mirmalek, who along with Mohabbat draws her support primarily from the Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Coalition, said she considers herself a “community-oriented” candidate and a relative outsider to the ASUC. She believes that her awareness of the needs of student organizations and networks with campus administration will help accomplish her platforms.

“I think being independent definitely has a few drawbacks in terms of resources — we definitely don’t have as much money,” Mirmalek said. “I see it as a positive thing because you’re closer to your roots than an institutional party. It shouldn’t be an ‘us versus them’ mentality, and you should never be forced to disagree.”

Chang, a junior double-majoring in political economy and Chinese, echoed these sentiments. He is running on a platform of reforming the senate’s method of funding student groups. In last year’s ASUC elections, Chang ran for executive vice president with Students for a Democratic University.

Unlike the other independents, who decided not to affiliate with a party from the start, Chang first sought to run for senate with the Cooperative Movement party, which was unable to accommodate him on its slate because of what he called “party dysfunction.”

Despite where they may differ on specific policies, the independent candidates in this year’s election say that they are motivated by a common desire to make the ASUC as efficient as it can be in serving students.

“I want to make sure there’s not partisan gridlock, or if there is, there needs to be a voice speaking against it,” Chang said.

Veerappan could not be reached for comment.

Contact Jeremy Gordon at [email protected]

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