Rules of Procedure: the secret to dominating an advanced committee

by Sam Povey on December 14, 2016




What is the difference between a good delegate and the best delegate? This is the question posed by one of the first articles I read on this website. “A Good Delegate and The Best Delegate: Key Differences” details the qualities and actions that distinguish one delegate from a room of hundreds and remains an excellent read for novices looking to up their game.

Of the many differences the author identifies, one has stuck with me: the ability to, “manipulate and exploit” the Rules of Procedure (RoP). This may strike many as a break from the “spirit” of Model UN, which values forthrightness and honesty. But any experienced delegate will tell you that in large and advanced committees, you need as much help as you can get to pass a draft resolution. Besides, being nice and being diplomatic aren’t necessarily the same thing.

While Rules of Procedure (RoP) varies widely between conferences and across countries, I hope that the examples below will give you a good indication of how to use RoP to push your country’s agenda and exhibit yourself as a veteran.

  1. Precedence of Motions

What? RoP will usually specify the order in which motions will be voted upon, often by which are the most disruptive. Disruptiveness is defined by the nature of the motion (unmoderated caucuses are generally seen as more disruptive than moderated caucuses) and its length (a 20-minute moderated caucus is more disruptive than a 15-minute one).

Why? All else equal, delegates would rather not be in voting procedure. So, you have a better chance of having a motion passed if it is voted on first rather than if it is voted on last.

This can be important for gaining extra speaking time. Being the successful proposer of a moderated caucus grants you the right to make the first speech, when delegates and chairs are most likely to be paying attention.

Moreover, successfully proposing motions can help shift the direction of the debate in your favour. For instance, if your bloc is ready to begin working on a draft resolution but the opposing bloc is not, passing an unmoderated caucus will give you a valuable head start. Equally, you can avoid the discussion of an embarrassing topic for your country by proposing a more disruptive moderated caucus.

How? Ensure you are aware of the order of precedence being used. This should be displayed clearly in the conference’s study guide. Most conferences consider longer motions of the same type more disruptive, but a handful do not. Once you know what the order is, strategically propose motions which are more disruptive than the ones previously raised in order to have them considered first.

  1. Motion to re-order draft resolutions

What? Draft resolutions are voted on in order of submission unless a motion to re-order draft resolutions is passed. This motion will stipulate the alternative order in which all draft resolutions should be voted on and generally requires a simple majority to pass. This motion is only in order once the committee has moved into voting procedure.

Why? When a committee is evenly split, the order in which draft resolutions (DRs are considered can influence the outcome of the vote. Imagine an even, three-way split: efforts to merge have failed and the committee has moved to voting procedure on DR 1, DR 2 and DR 3 (in that order). Which reso has the best chance of passing?

DR 3, of course! Bloc 2 and 3 will vote down DR 1, bloc 1 and 3 will vote down DR 2, leaving DR 3 as the only option left. While it isn’t guaranteed that DR 3 will pass, you can always rely on action bias to push a handful of delegates to vote for the remaining reso, when the only other option is passing nothing at all.

How? Towards the end of committee, try to get an accurate head count of the blocs. If you’re clearly ahead, then motion to place your DR first. If there is an even split, motion to place your draft resolution last and, of the remainder, put the weakest first. This will help you pick up votes against strong DRs from disgruntled delegates who have just seen their own resolutions voted down.

  1. The Poison Pill

What? An amendment designed to contradict, weaken or otherwise undermine a draft resolution.

Why? Poison pill amendments can devastate a draft resolution. For instance, the successful addition of a clause supporting a policy which many delegates have openly opposed can force them to abandon a resolution that they otherwise agree with.

How? The best poison pills introduce clauses that appear innocuous to most delegates but are diametrically opposed to the publicly stated policy of the DR’s sponsors and signatories. This increases the chance that the amendment passes and maximises the damage caused to an opposing bloc.

But proceed with caution: poison pill amendments are extremely disruptive. Using a poison pill is a risky tactic if you have managed to build a bloc that is evenly matched. Furthermore, the use of poison pills will be seen as egregious if used by a dominant bloc.

As such, I would only recommend the use of the poison pill as a last minute attempt to break an otherwise dominant bloc and create a more level playing field when moving towards voting procedure.

  1. Motion for the division of the question

What? A motion to divide a draft reso by clause and vote on each portion separately. RoP varies widely: some allow the proposer to specify the division, others require the committee to vote on each clause individually (also known as voting clause-by-clause). Clauses that pass are adopted, those that fail are discarded. This motion is only in order once the committee has moved to voting procedure and usually requires a simple majority to pass.

Why? If your draft reso contains a small number of controversial clauses which you failed to remove or alter during amendment procedure, you can use a division of the question to effectively remove them.

A division of the question also serves as an excellent antidote to a poison pill amendment (see #3).

How? Speak to wavering delegates in opposing blocs and identify the clauses that are causing the most opposition. As long as these are not an integral part of the DR, have members of your bloc propose a division of the question to vote on these clauses separately.

  1. Motion to postpone debate on. . .

What? Removes a draft resolution or amendment from the floor without a substantive vote. Also known as “tabling”. Generally requires a super-majority and speakers for and against. A motion to reconsider a tabled item can also be raised at any time.

Why? Large committees can often get bogged down by several draft resolutions. If mergers are slow to occur a significant amount of committee time can be wasted. Tabling one or several draft resolutions can, therefore, be a means of encouraging mergers.

How? Tabling requires broad support from the committee. As such, it is essential to ensure the consent of other blocs. Ideally, get the agreement of smaller blocs by offering concessions on your draft resolution in return for tabling their own.

  • esore

    Often, delegates manipulate rules in order to give themselves unfair advantages. It is not uncommon, for example, to try to change speaking times to disadvantage delegates from rival schools, or asking for a moderated caucus so as to keep others from getting full points. It’s a practice that turns MUN into a football game–us vs them–and mocks the very spirit of cooperation that the United Nation stands for.

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