As the SA General Elections came to a close, it ended on the Presidential Hustings. The night saw three candidates: Nurel Fatiha Basyira, Manesha Puvanaguroo, and Utkarsh Gupta battle it out in a rigorous questioning and debate sessions. The role of the SA President is to manage the SA. Therefore, manifestos were torn open, candidates’ leadership styles were questioned and strategies surrounding engagement between the SA and students were argued.
Manesha A/P Puvanaguroo
This first candidate is a Year 2 Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience student who focuses on representation, engagement, support, and transparency to set her candidacy in motion.
Manesha boasts a variety of experiences, such as being the current netball club president, a class representative in Year 1, and Head of Marketing in the Activities Network. Hence, she presented herself as an ideal to represent the SA and students professionally in all aspects. By having an approachable personality, she hopes to be a point of contact between students and the management.
To deliver this, she stated that a suggestion box along with the available hours of SA Executives would be posted outside the SA Office, where students may take the opportunity to voice their issues. Besides this, an initiation of bi-weekly events and a tentative event calendar will be activated to encourage discourse between the SA and students on issues faced on-campus.
She presents herself as a team player, highlighting the supportive role of a president to improve the university. First, to assist executives in fulfilling their manifestos, and highlighting the achievements of executives, ensuring that they are published and celebrated. This is because she believes many students overlook SA achievements. In regard to student welfare, she mentioned that SA will work closely with well-being to keep the physical and mental health of students safe.
Touching on the point of transparency, where meeting minutes and updates will be made accessible to students. Yet, she also maintains that not every detail should be made known to students in order to uphold the privacy of certain issues.
Nurel Fatiha Basyira (aka Syira)
Second to present was Syira, who began by introducing herself as a seasoned participant in working with clubs and societies since foundation. Despite being a first year Business, Economics and Management student, she posits herself as a new and young candidate brimming with fresh energy to inject into the SA. Throughout her speech, she seemed slightly nervous, however she calmly carried forward.
Acknowledging the presence of the Cash card, Syira plans on introducing an E-wallet for the Cash Card. Ensuring that each store on campus has a machine. Through the presence of physical and online methods, Syira believes this will allow for quicker accessibility as features such as reloading and tracking of balance etc. would present an incentive.
A particularly contested objective in Syria’s manifesto was the paid parking system. She considers the lack of parking available to students a crucial University issue. Therefore, this would be a solution to this problem. Firstly, she intends to abolish the Green and Red parking permits. Secondly, a paid parking Red zone will be implemented throughout the campus with a sole Free Parking Zone located behind Kapas Hall.
The parking rates will be RM0.60 per hour and these will be charged from 8:30AM to 6:30PM on working days. However, students will not face these charges after 6:30PM and on weekends. Additionally, this would reduce traffic and carbon emissions. Furthermore, it serves as an incentive for students to utilize shuttle services provided by the University. In the absence of permits, students will use their Student ID to pass security. On the topic of payment, Syria did not clearly explain how students will do so.
Social and Improvement:
Engagement is an integral part of Syira’s manifesto. She aims to reach out to students through informal events such as games and debates through collaboration with Clubs and Societies to ensure operation. If elected, she will introduce “Cheap Thrills” events which will utilize existing SA resources to host fun and interactive events. Interestingly, these events will promote outdoor events incorporating unused locations such as the fountain area and amphitheater. Regarding student engagement, online forms for feedback and comments against the SA will be. By doing so, Syira hopes this will ultimately tear down the barrier between the SA and students as more channels of communication will be available.
Transparency has been a common trend in Presidential Candidates’ manifestos. In Syira’s point of view, she would like to restructure the SA and monitor Execs. Additionally, she will work on increasing UNM capital to ensure that budgets of clubs and societies will be plentiful.
“I will be prepared in any situation and come up with contingency plans”
As a Year 2 International Economics student running for president, the incumbent ISO emphasized his plan to make SA an integral part of the best university student experience. He claims that his SA experience has pushed him to run for president as there are still many ideas he would like to continue realizing.
Utkarsh mentioned the importance of the CSEC and its functions, considering clubs and societies play a front line role with student engagement. He identified the need for interactive and effective programmes during CSEC to deliver essential knowledge to CS members.
He views the cash card as necessary and highlighted its contribution to the MAD Money Fund. He plans to revamp the cash card system to prioritize convenience, implementing QR pay and an e-Wallet online system for instance.
With respect to the ongoing awareness campaigns, the candidate assessed that they have been well received. He would like to continue identifying consistent issues among the students, then creating awareness about it. For example, the on-campus emergency contacts which are not widely known.
By utilizing the platform to speak with the management, he intends to collect feedback from the students to be taken up directly to the Student Council Meeting. As such, this would make it conducive for problems to be solved jointly by the management and SA.
Focusing on transparency, as with the two other candidates, Utkarsh plans to preserve the practice of posting monthly updates on the SA website to convey the SA’s transparency.
First Debate of the Night
The first presidential debate round was chaired by Dhipan Raj, the President of Nottingham Debate Society where questions were given for all candidates to answer.
“Explain how and what experience has made you the most suitable candidate for the role?”
New and young, she thinks she will be able to bring new ideas to the table. She reinstates her idea on paid parking, as she said that it has never been done before.
With the experiences that she has worked with Sports, Activities, and Education Network, she claims to be capable and suitable for the position.
With his previous experience being the ISO 19/20, he has witnessed all the events that happened and has talked to the team to learn what went wrong and how to be creative in approaching future events.
“How do you make sure that the SA board is truly transparent to ensure that each student is satisfied and there were no levels of corruption?”
By meeting with the students often, she wanted to conduct informal events and propose an online complaint platform. However, she was very vague regarding the idea.
Manesha mentioned that upon the completion of a manifesto from each officer, the students needed to be updated as it is the student’s right to know what goes on in the SA office. The same goes vice versa if the promises failed to be fulfilled.
Reflecting on his previous experience as a SA exec, putting the details in emails and having public events such as going to the cafe with the execs for a Q&A and feedback session were proposed by Utkarsh. This is to make the students feel more involved in the SA process.
How are you going to help achieve the rest of SA execs goals and if their goals are too unreasonable and clashed with yours, how will you approach it?
The candidate plans on approaching each execs’ manifesto by tackling it one at a time. She will be assessing the practicality and viability of the goals in terms of execution and budget-wise to guide each execs through the manifesto.
While acknowledging that it is under the president’s portfolio to ensure the completion of each execs’ manifesto, Manesha proposed a yearly and semesterly calendar to keep track of the progress of each execs in completing their manifesto. Next, communication is important in an organisation, hence she stresses on dynamic communication between her execs.
Utkarsh digressed that the 3 days training period will be held to reassess the goals that were promised by the SA execs. Besides planning on the schedule for the next academic year, he will also be working alongside the execs to help them prioritise their manifesto according to achievable and viable goals.
Audience Q&A Session #1
Current Activities Officer Divya Sankar inaugurated the first round of the Audience Q&A session “In the event an Exec is impeached, the president has to take over the position. Do you believe you have the capacity to take over a major position with a large audience. If so why?“
Taking upon a more direct, leadership role, Syira firstly wants to ensure that Execs do their jobs. They should contact her if they have problems and ultimately work as a team to complete their jobs. As a last resort, Syira will not hesitate to take upon the role of her fellow Exec if they fail to perform their responsibilities.
Drawing upon her experience under Divya, Manesha hopes to conduct herself in the same admirable manner. As such, she plans on dividing roles and responsibilities between Execs to ensure that everyone, SA and students alike, has the best experience possible.
Looking at the bigger picture, Utkarsh plans on imagining SA as a whole. He desires to collectively work as a team whereby each Exec participates in discussions and events. To ensure the best possible experience for students, each Exec will be given a team to operate as smoothly as possible.
Current SA President Sara Siddiqi asked Manesha about what on her manifesto is unique. To which she replied by succinctly pointing out the “Engagement” aspect of her manifesto. Initiated under this objective are the tentative academic/semesterly calendars as well as the introduction of a suggestion box outside the SA office.
Sara followed up this question regarding a scenario whereby an Exec is not doing their job in spite of repeated conversations and actions, how they would deal with said person,
Rather diplomatically, Manesha plans on communicating with the Exec in question to discover underlying issues. Through such, a solution can be developed. If no improvements are made by the Exec, she would unwillingly follow through with a vote of no confidence.
Similarly, albeit in a rather stern and direct manner, Syira aims to have a discussion with the questioned exec and give them an opportunity to explain themselves.
Utkarsh would approach it differently. Before such a scenario were to occur, he would first establish an SA identity of unity wherein Execs work together in harmony. Utkash would motivate them to work as one and to fulfill their respective duties. If ever such a scenario were to arise, the logical action to take would be to communicate with the Exec to see what can be done collectively and how he as a president, can help assist them.
“If they [Exec] can’t do it and you [President] can’t do anything about, they can get out ”– Syira
“Create an image of the SA as a whole, not an individual”– Utkarsh
Continuing with a question directed to Utkarsh, an exchange student raised a question about on-campus racism and the steps taken to ensure the safety, comfort and inclusivity of black people on campus. Rarely addressed, welfare officer and equal (minority ethnic officer) opportunities are present in the UK, whereas none here, and issues are not taken as seriously as they are in the UK.
In response, Utkarsh believes the first point of contact for this issue would be to email the SA President or ISO. Following this, the two parties should be talked to in order to develop a solution in collaboration with the Wellbeing Office
Despite this procedural answer, the questioner proceeded to question how more inclusivity can be garnered. Utkarsh was further questioned about awareness campaigns on issues such as racism, and how he did not take any action even if the questioner filed a complaint towards Utkarsh as the ISO.
Key Elections Committee member Laila asked Manesha how her debates and discussions will be moderated given their premise of sensitive issues. Once again on the grounds of collaboration, she believes Clubs and Societies such as the Nottingham Debate Society and Feminist Society, will help to induce a harmonious environment that would be firmly stable by people who are experienced.
When further pressed on how Manesha would directly address a hostile individual. As a preventive measure before each discussion, she would display a disclaimer pleading for structured conversation with prohibitions on derogatory language. However, if there was a direct confrontation, she believes her role as SA President warrants her to take action by communicating with the individual
“As SA President, it is my role that I step up and I have a talk with the person and let them know this is not the purpose of the discussion… it is for everyone to come up with a healthy solution”– Manesha
How does (paid parking) solve the parking issue as there are no further complaints regarding it. Syira claims students do not use University shuttle bus services often. Therefore, by introducing paid parking, it would deincentivize students from taking their cars as it is an added hassle towards existing hassles such as petrol and toll
Sara again questioned Syira’s understanding of the SA budget and how she plans to build funds. Citing her inexperience in SA affairs, she promises that if she is elected, she will take the appropriate steps to understand them.
Furthermore, to a question posed about dealing with existing SA resources, Syira mentioned that she would use existing resources, however she conceded that she is unaware if the SA is currently doing the same.
To wrap up a heaty questioning session, IGNITE questioned the candidates’ course of action to the current social media campaigns spreading misinformation and slander around the SA General Elections and how they detect future occurrences.
Second Debate of the Night
- As most food chains are unhealthy, what would be the best way forward to bring in healthier or more diverse options for students?
Syira mentioned the existence of Sonder previously failed because of its high price point. Following this, she believes that the vacant venue should be used to bring in healthy food with a reasonable price.
- Looking beyond implementing paid parking, how will you address the issue of public transport services, such as long queues, infrequent schedules, and buses not arriving in time?
In this regard, Syira believes that there is a low ridership for buses, but she states that the punctuality and frequency issue will be resolved once ridership increases. Besides this, she also suggests having two buses during peak hours.
- How would you fix existing problems considering SA hasn’t been able to deal with low turn-out rates and feedback issues successfully?
Citing the crowd present at the presidential hustings, Manesha saw it as proof that the SA matters to the students. In fact, she believes that giving the suggestion box another try would result in a better response. In her view, the low turnout rate could be solved through cooperating with existing clubs and societies to plan the bi-weekly events.
- Concerning the wellbeing of students, counselling sessions have received mixed reactions, with some commenting that they lack professionalism or confidentiality. How would you regulate this issue?
Manesha seems to have looked into this issue, having spoken to Mr. Vasu from the Wellbeing office who claims that students do utilize their counselling sessions. Pointing out that she is a psychology student, she expressed that if there were privacy issues, she would speak to the Wellbeing office about it. While she is unsure if there is a constitution established in the Wellbeing office, she hopes to implement a privacy agreement between counsellors and students to protect both parties.
- As the cash card has failed previously, what plans do you have in mind to increase its efficiency since it has already been applied across various platforms (faculties, reload machines, etc.) to increase its use?
As for the reload machines, Utkarsh responded that the only reload machine on campus does not work. Hence, complaints about this should be solved through the implementation of an online e-Wallet system. Speaking with the management, he will be putting out a survey to find out how students would react to this implementation. If the data shows enough interest, the management will agree to invest and look into it. Instead of the current E-Fuel system, he believes that third-party e-Wallets like TnGo could be an alternative, considering they are already widely used off-campus.
- Why do you see the need to restructure CSEC? How would you handle situations where new clubs do not have the same and support, or if old clubs have problems such as internal strife? In general, how would you support the entire CS community?
As he attended CSEC previously, he would like to innovate the programme to make it more interactive and informative. This gave attendees the opportunity to understand the functions of each position in a club. In the future, he would like to include event managers and treasurers as well as carry out special sessions for new clubs to learn how to operate independently. Furthermore, he welcomes CS members to speak to the Activities Officer or himself, if there is a lack of funds or support.
Audience Q&A Session #2
Immediately as the session began, the first question was directed to Syira regarding the apparent low shuttle bus ridership and whether she realized that certain people were unable to board the bus because the seats were full. Syira responded that she understands how tiring public transport can be as she uses the bus. She also reiterated her point on having 2 buses during peak hours to accommodate the high demand.
Current SA President Sara Siddiqi posed an important question to all three candidates, where they had to mention one idea proposed by another candidate that is impractical and cannot be realized. Manesha was first to answer, speaking out against paid parking considering students were already paying a high tuition fee for the university facilities. Applauses were heard from the crowd as people were visibly agreeing with her. Utkarsh, on the other hand, tried to maneuver around the question by saying all ideas seemed feasible. Syira seemed distraught with the opposition from the crowd, and agreed that her idea was not the most practical. However, she maintains that it was realistic because she spoke to Mr. Zuhairi from the Security Office, which suggested two solutions to solve the parking issue. It was to either implement paid parking, or create a new car park. With the limited budget in mind, Syira intends to collect funds from the paid parking which will eventually lead to the building of a parking lot, as well as to increase the bus frequency.
The EC bounced a similar question back to the candidates, asking them to name an idea coming from another candidate which they would like to show support for. Syira shared that TnGo was already widely used off-campus and would be effective if applied on-campus. Manesha built on this point, stating that a collaboration between the cash card and TnGo would be an effective way forward. While Utkarsh believed the ideas he has heard so far were equally great, he pointed out that developing career opportunities for international students in Malaysia would be met with great enthusiasm from non-Malaysian students.
Laila from the EC then questioned Utkarsh on his inability to answer Sara’s previous question head-on. Was this due to inadequate research on his end or simply a manner of conflict avoidance? In response, he asserted that wild ideas are not necessarily impractical, and he could only provide a proper answer after giving it some thought because he did not want to be rash.
Another student then mentioned his concern: Students usually focus on their academics and extracurricular activities once the academic year starts. Which steps would the SA take to encourage students to be more involved with the SA?
A question came from the floor, asking the candidates: “How do you plan to help out new execs in learning and integrating into the SA?”
Poking again at the paid parking idea, an audience member asked Syira what the revenue from the paid parking would be used for. She maintained that the revenue would go back to the students, in increasing bus frequency, creation of parking lots and new facilities.
Sara poses a question to all candidates in regards to the work-life balance between the execs by asking: “How do you divide personal and professional relationships with your team as you get closer? What do you think your leadership style will be?”
Catching up on the candidates after the Hustings, IGNITE met with Utkarsh first. Covering his ambitious plan to revamp the Cash card system, we have asked him how he would incentivize students to make that jump. Cash is currently King in the University, but Utkarsh believes, for one, that this transition would be more convenient as it is cashless. Secondly, MAD MONEY which funds student projects. To test the feasibility, Utkarsh is, as incumbent ISO, planning on sending out a survey regarding Cash Cards. Using this data, he will plot the future course of action. Overall, he believes he did a good job as he informatively answered the questions. For now, Utkarsh’s eyes are set on the short campaigning and voting period ahead.
When asked about how the Hustings went, Syira admitted her relatively shaky performance was due to her being nervous.
“I was quite nervous, ‘cause I’m new here. Everyone has their own experience and they’re older than me”– Syira
However, she believes the night went okay as it was a new learning experience and she accomplished her goal of running for candidate in the first place. Which was to introduce herself as a fresh candidate who invites students out of their comfort zones. We further asked about the validity of her Parking Scheme after it came under scrutiny. Syira firmly believes it is the best solution to counter insufficient parking spots. Amongst plans from the new parking revenue, she plans on constructing additional parking facilities specifically around the Sports Complex, and renovations around campus.
We asked her about a relatively unchallenged idea she had in her manifesto: semesterly health checks. Going about how she would orchestrate this large scale event, she cited the work of PharmNotts. They currently organize checks akin to her idea but in collaboration with non-Uni organizations such as Cancer societies. Thus, she believes by working hand-in-hand with the SA, Clubs, Societies and external organizations, these checks would be conducted efficiently to accommodate the thousands of University students. Manesha further added that these would be free for all students and would be conducted in a 2-3 day event.
On a less serious note, Manesha was pretty relieved and happy with her performance. In fact, she feels more confident than she was before as students have finally had the chance to get to know her on the big stage.
“I feel like I’m more confident now, ‘cause people know me more now… I feel like people have more confidence in me”– Manesha
As a wrap, we believe the Presidential candidates for the upcoming year are strong contenders who have given thought on how to enhance the overall university experience. While Utkarsh possesses the experience that grants him credibility, Manesha and Syira have brought fresh new ideas and bright enthusiasm to the board. This article intends to give you insight as to which presidential candidate could better improve your university life, and don’t forget the elections commence tomorrow!.
Written by Esther Yap and Ivan Shahran.
Photos by Katyayni Ganesan