Shakira Martin, the current vice-president for further education of the National Union of Students (NUS) has unexpectedly defeated incumbent president Malia Bouattia in a three-way election. Bouattia, who became the first black Muslim woman to serve as NUS president last year, faced allegations of antisemitism after she referred to her first university as a “Zionist outpost” and criticised “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets”. Martin secured 402 of the 721 votes cast, with Bouattia receiving 272 and outsider candidate Tom Harwood 35. Following Bouattia’s election, 26 student unions voted to disaffiliate, with three opting to leave the NUS.
The election was seen as a verdict on the future direction of the NUS, with debate focused on whether the body should be focused purely on practical student concerns or should extend to wider political issues. Martin pitched herself as a centrist and pragmatist able to heal the existing division in the NUS. Speaking after the result, Martin pledged to fight for further education members, claiming that 70% of the NUS’s members were in this category and frequently ignored.
A single mother who left home at the age of 16, Martin previously studied at Southwark College, where she became involved in the NUS. Her “business skills” education occurred while working as a drug courier. Martin has voiced support for Jeremy Corbyn in the past but claims to be undecided in the forthcoming UK general election.
Bouattia’s term in office was dogged by controversy, including claims of failure to tackle antisemitism and accusations of racism made by the home affairs select committee. However, supporters state that her leadership increased diversity across the NUS and that she tackled hate crimes.
When the newly elected president, Shakira Martin, spoke about her experience growing up as the child of refugees who fled the Algerian civil war when she was just seven years old, her supporters erupted in cheers and gave her a standing ovation. Martin emphasized the sacrifices she made in pursuit of her education and triumph over the adversity she faced as a result of her beliefs. Despite receiving death threats and harassment, Martin’s resilience and determination have remained unwavering throughout her leadership.
On the other hand, outsider Harwood’s criticisms of the union’s "toxic political culture" failed to generate much visible support. However, when he mentioned that Jewish students felt unsafe at the conference, he was cheered.
The Union of Jewish Students expressed their approval of Martin’s victory, applauding the election of Jewish student Izzy Lenga as vice-president for welfare, as well as the passage of two motions aimed at combating antisemitism.
A spokeswoman for the Union of Jewish Students congratulated Martin on her win, rejecting the divisive rhetoric of the current president, Malia Bouattia, whose past antisemitic remarks have been a problem for Jewish students for over a year.