BY TREVOR CALERO
Daily News Editor
Published February 9, 2009
Over the past five semesters, the Michigan Action Party has maintained a monopoly over the Michigan Student Assembly, claiming a majority of the seats on the assembly since the party’s inception in 2006.
But the students who actually decide to vote for this year’s student government election will not see the party known for its hot pink and black campaign pamphlets anywhere on the ballot.
Faced with an internal struggle to relate to a disaffected student body — further magnified by recent criticisms from their constituents — two representatives have chosen to forgo the MAP distinction in search of a new direction for MSA.
Engineering junior Abhishek Mahanti and LSA junior Gibran Baydoun will run in opposition to one another for MSA president under the banner of two new parties.
When MAP got together last month to decide who it was going to run as its candidates for the upcoming March election, it chose Baydoun and Mahanti to run as its president and vice president, respectively.
The two then met, along with other party members, to outline their platform. During their discussions, both Baydoun and Mahanti developed goals for the future of MSA, but when they looked at whether those goals could be accomplished under the current party, they had some reservations, Baydoun said.
“The first thing I had to think about was could this be done with MAP,” Baydoun said, “or did I need to do this in a new way, a different way.”
Baydoun said that he and Mahanti came to the conclusion that what they wanted to accomplish could not be realized if they continued to be associated with the party, and that they soon made the decision to dissolve MAP.
On Jan. 31, shortly after the decision was made to walk away from MAP, Baydoun said Mahanti told him he was going to create his own party and run against him.
Current MSA President Sabrina Shingwani said that it was “pretty obvious that MAP’s time was over,” and that she’s not surprised to see new parties being formed.
Shingwani said MSA parties typically exist for three, maybe four semesters before they dissolve.
Shingwani said that what is playing out now is the same old cycle, as new parties form with the intention to revamp MSA, but after a couple of semesters they find themselves in the same rut that plagued the parties before them.
But Baydoun and Mahanti said they are both confident that what they offer is a complete break from MAP.
“MAP was kind of a message,” Mahanti said. “We want to be more of a medium to carry the messages forward from the students.”
Mahanti and LSA junior Mike Rorro, who will run with him as vice president, formed the Michigan Vision Party, in hopes, they said, of generating an open dialogue between students and MSA.
Baydoun said his decision to break from MAP was greatly influenced by how they fill seats on MSA. He said they try to fill the number of open seats, even if they are compromising those seats with candidates that don’t meet what should be the party’s standards.
Baydoun said his goal is to bring the best students to the table, even if that is less than the number of open seats.
“You need to change the mindset of thinking, that it’s not about who’s going to bring in the most votes, but who’s going to do the most work,” he said.
Baydoun, who has yet to choose a vice president or decide upon a name, said his party is focusing on the substance behind the goals.
“So many times you see people running with these lofty goals and ideals,” he said, “and they have a platform saying ‘I want to do this, this, and this’, but where’s the how?”
Mahanti and Rorro said they have plans to create a website to provide students with a way to voice their concerns. The website, they said, will keep the student body up to date with what MSA is working on through a blog, in addition to hosting open forums for students to discuss issues they believe are important.
They said they want students to feel that their voice can impact what happens in MSA on a daily basis, and that they are listening to the student body.
“We want students to give us input, and we want to be able to talk to them, because students have a lot of gripes,” Mahanti said. “Sometimes MSA hears them, sometimes they don’t, but we really want to open up this big dialogue of what they think the assembly should do.”
Part of their goals for the MVP is to attract a representative base that is comprised of students who don’t have prior experience with student government, students who can bring a fresh perspective to the assembly that, as Mahanti said, can be very exclusive.
“What I was aiming for when starting something new was reaching out to people who are not in MSA who are proven leaders,” he said. “All of us are really excited to bring back a level of accountability to the assembly.”
Mahanti and Rorro said that all of their plans — to open communication with students and increase the transparency of MSA — could not be accomplished with MAP, something that both they and Baydoun agree on.
Baydoun said he thinks the number one issue for students “comes down to the wallet.” He said he wants to look into fixing financial aid and keeping tuition low.
But most importantly, Baydoun said he wants people to trust their student government again.
“I believe if we can get students to believe in government again, to believe in MSA and its potential again . . . I think that will get them out (to vote),” he said. “That’s my goal for this election.”