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Snowden wins university rector vote
7:57am Tuesday 18th February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
US whistleblower Edward Snowden has been elected rector of one of the UK's oldest universities.
The computer analyst was nominated by a group of students at the University of Glasgow who said they had received Mr Snowden's approval through his lawyer.
The result of the ballot, which opened to students yesterday, was revealed in Glasgow today.
He defeated former champion cyclist Graeme Obree, author Alan Bissett and the Rev Kelvin Holdsworth who also stood.
Mr Snowden became a wanted man when his leaks brought to light secret National Security Agency documents which revealed widespread US surveillance of phone and internet communications.
He is staying in Russia where he was given temporary asylum.
A statement from the group which nominated Mr Snowden said: "We are incredibly delighted to see Edward Snowden elected as the new Rector of Glasgow University.
"We have a proud and virtuous tradition of making significant statements through our rectors and today we have once more championed this idea by proving to the world that we are not apathetic to important issues such as democratic rights.
"Our opposition to pervasive and immoral state intrusion has gone down in the records. What is more, we showed Edward Snowden and other brave whistleblowers that we stand in solidarity with them, regardless of where they are.
"In the following weeks we will continue to campaign for the NSA and GCHQ to cease their assault on our fundamental right to privacy and for Edward Snowden to be recognised as the courageous whistleblower he is, rather than a traitor.
"For now, however, we are simply excited to see what our new rector has to say about the title."
The role of rector is to represent student issues to senior management at the university, but previous incumbents have been elected as political statements.
Winnie Mandela was elected in 1987 and Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu became rector in 2005, despite students knowing that neither would be able to travel to Glasgow and take up the practical role of the position.
The election was held under the single transferable vote system. Mr Snowden received 3,124 votes in the first round and 3,347 in the second. The nearest candidate was Mr Holdsworth, with 1,563.
PhD student Chris Cassells, part of the group that nominated Mr Snowden, said: ''We had no idea what the outcome would be but obviously we are absolutely delighted that so many students felt that this was an important enough issue to come out and vote.
"It's in the same tradition that elected Vanunu and Mandela. It's a clear statement from Glasgow students that they stand in opposition to pervasive state surveillance and that they celebrate Edward Snowden for his actions as a whistleblower.
"I doubt that he (Snowden) knows yet but we will be informing his legal representatives as soon as we can.
"We're very hopeful that he will be able to deliver the inaugural address in April either via video link or a pre-recorded message and hopefully that will be the first in a series of engagements."
The nomination of Mr Snowden proved quite controversial on the university campus. The group that campaigned for his election complained that some posters they put up had been torn down and cut up, while some university unions called for an active rector who will be able to work on behalf of students to be elected.
More than 6,500 students voted in the election - double the number that voted when former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was elected for a second time three years ago.
A group of students who gathered in the university's Bute Hall to hear the election result were disappointed with the outcome.
Louise Wilson said: "It sucks. It's very disappointing but not surprising in the slightest.
"I'm all for political statements, but at a time when the university and students need the biggest say with all the cuts it's just not appropriate to not have a working rector."
Fellow student Hannah McNeill added: "I'm furious. I think most people here are very upset about the result. We need an active rector, we could have given him (Snowden) an honorary degree or something.
"The only good thing is the number of votes that were cast because it was a lot more than usual."
Former champion cyclist Obree is a former student at the university who dropped out four months into a design engineering degree. He was happy to be involved in the election but was not surprised to see Mr Snowden win.
"It was quite weird coming back after 25 years , I didn't quite fit in at the time so to be nominated as rector now was quite poignant," he said.
" When I first accepted I didn't know Edward Snowden's hat was in the ring and I'm not surprised at all that he won.
"I can see it both ways, it's important that if he wasn't elected that it wouldn't be used against him, but the students obviously feel quite strongly about what he stood for.
"It was an emphatic win. There were students who wanted a working rector but the votes were split between three candidates. Lets say it was only Kelvin, who got the second most votes, and Snowden, then it might have been a different outcome and certainly would've closer."