Abstain votes are to be junked, what happens now?

by Philip Jamilla

Steven Grecia accepts defeat in the proclamation of winners for the Central Student Council elections last April 22. Photo by Audrey Fontilla/TomasinoWeb.

The dropping of the Central Judiciary Board’s resolution in the middle of President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address last Monday, July 24, infuriated a large number of Thomasians even more than the President’s two-hour rant.

The historic abstentions were hailed by many as the call of Thomasians for better and more competent student leaders — but what happens now that the candidates with the highest number of votes will instead be declared winners of the elections?

Last time, TomasinoWeb reported that special elections will likely be held and Central Student Council (CSC) Secretary Therese Gorospe will act as president until such time.

However, the resolution given by the Board further extinguishes the possibility of special elections, and poses the removal of abstentions from future polls.

The Board asserted that the Central Commission on Elections (COMELEC) violated Section 5, Article X of the UST Student’s Election Code (USEC) of 2011 “by including ‘abstain’ in the ballot as if it is a name of candidate.”

USEC states in Section 5, Article X that the ballot shall contain (a) the printed names of candidates, position and party; (b) a printed box before their names, (c) serial number of the ballot and (d) instructions.

There is no mention of including an ‘abstain’ option in the ballot.

Nonetheless, the Central COMELEC contested in a counter appeal that the ‘abstain’ option “has been present in ballots used for every student council election, whether manual or automated, in the University since time immemorial.”

Such option, they argued, “was never protested against by the candidates, political parties or the student body in the previous student council elections, both central and local.”

However, if the resolution is to be followed, the Central COMELEC will have to declare Steven Grecia, Gabriela Sepulchre, Daveson Nieto, and Richard Javier — all from Lakas Tomasino Coalition — as president, vice president, treasurer and auditor, respectively, despite losing these posts to abstain votes.

Furthermore, the resolution puts into question not only the results of the CSC polls but also the elections of local student councils.

Along with Grecia, Daniela Frigillana, an independent candidate for the internal vice president post of the Faculty of Arts and Letters Student Council (ABSC) is also one of the petitioners.

The ABSC currently has three vacant positions due to the abstentions: internal vice president, secretary, and auditor.

Applying the resolution to ABSC’s polls, Frigillana, Maria Ann San Andres, and Jan Rafael Lipat will respectively take the aforementioned posts.

However, Section 8, Article XI of the ABSC Constitution, states that “all permanent vacancies in the Executive Board shall be filled by special elections.”

Whether or not local SCs will follow suit with the resolution, despite the autonomy of their constitutions, is still left to be seen as the AB COMELEC is also set to release their own resolution within the week.

It is still to be determined if and when the Central COMELEC will file another appeal countering the resolution, or if they will amend their constitution this year to make future abstentions clear and unquestionable.

But until such time, it is and will be left with no choice but to follow the board resolution.