As voting in this week’s ASUC general elections winds to a close, this year’s executive race has taken on an unusually dramatic character.
Tension is typical in ASUC elections. The level of criticism in this year’s race has come as a surprise to many of those involved in the elections, however.
Most of the attention has been focused on the ASUC presidential race, which is the most hotly contested with five candidates vying for the position. While CalSERVE is running four executive candidates, the other major student political party and CalSERVE’s historic rival, Student Action, is running a single executive candidate, drawing even more focus than usual to the presidential race.
“Other candidates and students are resorting to personal attacks on the candidates instead of actually looking at qualifications, experience and past political track history of the candidates who are running,” said current ASUC President DeeJay Pepito, who ran last year with CalSERVE.
The presidential candidates have recently become the subject of intense scrutiny from those outside their parties. Naweed Mohabbat, the presidential candidate from CalSERVE, was accused of lying about his stance on divestment from companies associated with the Israeli military — an issue that divided the senate last spring. Meanwhile, Pavan Upadhyayula, the Student Action nominee, is facing three censures for allegedly campaigning in an ASUC space, something for which the party has previously said it’s being unfairly targeted.
Last week, Mohabbat attended a Jewish town hall where he said he did not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a global campaign that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel. On Friday, he told the audience at The Daily Californian’s ASUC Candidates Forum, “I do believe in divestment,” and said the next day at the Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian Coalition’s town hall, “I do believe in the BDS movement.”
On Tuesday, current SQUELCH! Senator Grant Fineman publicly accused Mohabbat of dishonesty and misleading the Jewish community by offering contradictory answers to his stance on divestment. Other current and former ASUC officials have echoed these criticisms as well. While Mohabbat was unavailable for comment Wednesday, he has previously said the lack of clarity in his stance on divestment and the BDS movement as a whole did not come from a change of opinion but from poor word choice.
Some members of the Jewish community voiced their disagreement with Fineman’s allegations, saying he did not speak for the entire community and was unfairly making divestment a central issue in the election.
“To try to make the entire narrative of Naweed’s campaign divestment is incorrect,” said current ASUC Executive Vice President Nolan Pack from CalSERVE. “Nothing about his campaign is about divestment.”
Additionally, both Student Action and the Defend Affirmative Action Party have voiced opinions that ASUC Attorney General Kevin Sabo has been acting in a partisan manner.
Sabo’s appointment –– a topic of contention due to his past involvement in Pack’s office –– almost shut down the ASUC Senate when senators expressed concerns he would be biased toward CalSERVE. Pack, however, said Sabo, in comparison to former Attorney General Hinh Tran, is more actively taking action to ensure candidates are complying with the ASUC bylaws.
“The attorney general and elections council are all taking (their positions) seriously,” Pack said.
Student Action senatorial candidate Lambert Li stood before the ASUC Judicial Council on Tuesday after Sabo filed charges against Li for campaigning in Crossroads dining commons. Li’s case is pending Judicial Council consideration. Sabo also filed petitions against Upadhyayula, another senatorial candidate and the party itself.
“I think this may have just been a misunderstanding,” Upadhyayula said, adding in his defense that a student group invited him to the ASUC space in which he allegedly campaigned.
If the Judicial Council rules all accused parties as guilty, each Student Action candidate would receive one censure, giving Upadhyayula a total of four and senatorial candidate Hannah Frankl a total of two censures. Five censures are needed to disqualify a candidate.
Additionally, Sabo plans to file charges against the 13 DAAP candidates who left the mandatory March 18 candidates meeting early as well as a petition against the party itself for storing campaign materials in an ASUC space. If found guilty, the 13 DAAP candidates would be disqualified, and the remaining candidates in the race would each be given up to three censures each.
According to DAAP presidential candidate David Douglass, the party will file charges against Sabo and the Elections Council on the grounds of candidate harassment and invasive campaign restrictions, among other allegations, after the election is over.
“It’s very undemocratic to have a unilateral body disqualify candidates,” Douglass said in an earlier interview. “We just want to make sure we have a democratic election.”
Although CalSERVE has received warnings, Sabo is not considering any censures against CalSERVE.
Still, candidates from both sides agree that criticisms should fall more heavily on candidates’ platforms rather than their personal characters.
“It’s important for students to remember no matter what your political beliefs are we are all students,” said Safeena Mecklai, the current external affairs vice president from Student Action. “Having someone attack your character, whoever you are, is a difficult thing to deal with on top of campaigning and classes. That being said, I think it’s important to hold people accountable.”