The Board of Deputies last night withdrew a nominations form for next month’s Board of Deputies elections after being advised by a leading QC it was “invalid and not fair”.
It came after Gillian Merron, the Board’s chief executive, sent out the form to deputies earlier this week, telling them that they could nominate more than one person for the presidency. The move, days before the closure of nominations today, sparked anger from the three existing candidates who felt the goal posts had been moved at the last minute.
It came as former United Synagogue president, Simon Hochhauser, announced a last-minute run for the top job, seeking the 20 nominations required to be on the ballot.
Merron had “sought advice”, and said that “if deputies do want to nominate more than one person for president or treasurer or more than three for vice-president, then the nomination(s) will be accepted”.
Those who had already made a choice were free to add to their existing nomination, she said. That advice is understood to come from Tony Leifer, chair of the Board’s Constitution Committee, although Mr Leifer refused to speak to the JN on the matter.
But on Wednesday, Ms Merron issued a statement to clarify the “rumour and hearsay” surrounding the elections. Crucially, she conceded: “The constitution is not clear about whether deputies can or cannot nominate multiple candidates, and for which positions, and this needs review. Nevertheless, we must be consistent in our processes, and so in line with the guidance issued when nominations opened, deputies may only nominate one candidate for president, three for vice president and one for treasurer, and not multiple candidates. New guidance will be issued to deputies today.”
The row erupted after Mr Hochhauser made a last-minute decision to challenge the three candidates who have already secured 20 nominations — Marie van der Zyl, Sheila Gewolb, and Edwin Shuker. Mr Hochhauser, who previously ruled himself out of contention, changed his mind after outgoing president Jonathan Arkush used Sunday’s plenary event in Gibraltar to call for more deputies to stand for office.
Each of the original candidates had been nominated by deputies whose nomination form made it clear they could only nominate one person for the post.
But when Mr Hochhauser said he would run, Ms Merron sent out new forms — giving rise to the possibility that his candidacy would depend on a different set of electoral rules.
The move prompted fury from Adrian Cohen, who is running Marie van der Zyl’s campaign, and Andrew Gilbert, who is supporting Edwin Shuker.
Mr Cohen told the JN: “He [Mr Arkush] has caused this whole situation. No-one asked him to call for more candidates or to change the conditions for nominations. Are we supposed just to sit there and be shafted?”
He said that the changing of the rules on nominations would have “cast doubt on the legitimacy” of Simon Hochhauser’s candidacy.
It is understood that the QC’s advice that the new nomination forms were invalid was passed on to the Constitution Committee of the Board, clearly resulting in the second about-turn.
Sheila Gewolb said the first change of heart over the nominations process was “somewhat suspicious, and has certainly been taken, by all of the candidates I have spoken to and all the deputies I have spoken to, as a sign, and the damaging public expression, of a serious lack of confidence in the abilities of any of the candidates already standing”.
Joe Millis, deputy for Bromley Reform, said: ‘I get the feeling that the Board would not be able to organise a drinks party in a place they brew beer. It’s a total farce.’