Journalists’ Syndicate elections require amelioration

10-02-2019 09:30 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Journalists are getting ready to elect a new board for their syndicate next March. Diaa’ Rashwan, head of the State Information Service (SIS), has announced his intention of running for head of the Journalists’ Syndicate board, a post currently held by Abdel-Mohsen Salama. Mr Rashwan is no stranger to that post, he held it from 2013 to 2015, and ran for it during the last election in 2017 but withdrew his nomination owing to what he described as an inauspicious election environment, and issuing a statement under the title “Apology and clearance of conscience” to explain his withdrawal.
Diaa’ Rashwan will not be the sole candidate for the post of head of the Journalists’ Syndicate; other candidates are bound to shortly announce their candidature. But this is a good opportunity to broach the topic of the election of the syndicate board. I agree with journalists’ aspirations that it is imperative for the majority of them, but more so for those aspiring to membership of the syndicate board, to rally around common interests instead of chasing individual goals or personal rivalries that drain their energies and lead them to slight other candidates.
I believe we are in dire need of reviewing the concept of individual candidacy in favour of coalitions or groups with common objectives and well-defined plans that would win the confidence of voters. This would ensure a board that includes a coalition that works in harmony for the benefit of journalists and journalism, realising the common goals they were elected to achieve.
I fully understand that, legally, syndicate elections run on an individual basis not on lists of candidates as partially in the case of parliamentary elections. But individual elections do not rule out the formation of groups that campaign collectively, with the voter having the final say who to vote for; he or she might select to vote individually for all the members of a group, or for one or more of them. Such a move would exclude the threat of having a dissonant board the members of which find it difficult to agree on a common objective, and instead indulge in disparity and conflict that would shackle the syndicate’s work.
Worth noting is that campaigning for the syndicate board more often than not includes two election promises guaranteed to flirt with the sentiments of journalists: a raise in the monthly sum officially paid by the State through the syndicate to journalists as compensation for the expense of the training they constantly need for their work, and striving for legal repeal of the possibility of imprisoning journalists. Other than that, candidates promise plans which they aspire to serve journalists, but which are frequently at variance with the plans of other candidates. A voter must be forgiven for questioning how a candidate could ensure that the plan he or she promised and for which they were elected would see light. Individual-based elections may boast a democratic ideal, but they offer no guarantee that a democratically elected board would be capable of the collective effort needed to realise the objectives it was elected to achieve. Is there any hope that candidates for the post of head of the Journalists’ Syndicate would run in collaboration with lists of candidates who have a common vision? And could we aspire that the new board would work to repeal the individual-based election system in favour of list-based elections?
There remains one point, even though not a major one, that I will not give up on broaching: that of the huge amount of paper candidates use for campaigning. The use of paper fliers in electioneering is riddled with the pandemonium of distributing them or, in an ugly chaotic scene, hanging them on the outer or inner walls of the syndicate building. Such paper publicity is moreover limited in scope and entirely inconsistent with the unbounded opportunity afforded by modern technology in the 21st century. The scandalous catastrophe is how the copious number of such fliers, distributed at the door of the syndicate on election day, gets thrown away and trampled by the voters, so that the interior of the syndicate, at which the polling is held, is almost concealed by unsightly paper. It remains for the garbage collectors to remove the following day that huge amount of entirely unnecessary waste. I hope the current or future syndicate board would issue a campaigning protocol that would regulate the process and put an end to such a chaotic, unseemly practice.

Watani International
10 February 2019

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