WHISTLEBLOWER Edward Snowden has been elected rector by students at Glasgow University following a record turnout.
The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor is currently living in exile in Russia after leaking details of surveillance programmes carried out by US intelligence.
The American received 3,347 of the 6,560 votes cast after author Alan Bissett had been eliminated from the running in the first round.
Snowden, who takes over the role from former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, will hold the post for three years.
The other candidates were cyclist Graeme Obree and the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, provost of St Mary’s Cathedral.
Student Chris Cassells, who co-ordinated the American’s election campaign, said it would “send a message” about the university across the world.
“We are delighted to see Edward Snowden elected as the new rector of the University of Glasgow,” he said. “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.”
Mr Cassells, a 27-year-old PhD student, said he had first approached Snowden’s New York-based legal team in January and had only received a response the night before nominations closed.
While he has yet to speak to Snowden directly, he said he was hopeful the former NSA operative would make a video address to be played to students at his official inauguration.
“I doubt that he [Snowden] knows yet but we will be informing his legal representatives as soon as we can,” Mr Cassells said.
“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.”
A historic position which exists at Scotland’s five ancient universities, the rector’s job is to represent students, raising their concerns to the university’s management and chairing the university court at Glasgow.
While students at Glasgow have in the past elected heavyweight figures including trade unionist Jimmy Reid and Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, they have also been criticised for choosing rectors such as former EastEnders actor Ross Kemp, who was largely absent during his tenure.
Snowden, 30, became a wanted man when his leaks brought to light secret NSA documents which revealed widespread US surveillance of phone and internet communications.
David Newall, secretary of university court, said: “This has been a record turnout for a rectorial election and I warmly congratulate Edward Snowden on his success.
“I would also like to thank Charles Kennedy for the contribution he has made to the university over the last six years.”
Mr Kennedy added: “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve the students of the University of Glasgow.
“The post of rector is an important one, and I would like to wish my successor all the very best for his term of office.”
Snowden is not the first incumbent rector to have been elected as a political statement. In 1987, Winnie Mandela was elected to the post and Israeli whistleblower Vanunu became rector in 2005.
Last month Snowden was nominated by two Norwegian politicians for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. They claimed the whistleblower’s actions had led to a “more stable and peaceful world order”.
Profile: Wanted man who is ‘a genius among geniuses’
whistleblower Edward Snowden became notorious for leaking US government documents last summer.
The leaked documents revealed operational details of the global surveillance apparatus run by the National Security Agency (NSA) along with numerous commercial and international partners, including the UK listening station GCHQ.
The disclosures have fuelled debates over mass surveillance and the balance between national security and information privacy.
Snowden previously worked for the CIA, NSA and other contractors in an NSA military base in Japan. He has been referred to as “a genius among geniuses” by a former NSA colleague.
Snowden, now 30, contacted the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers about releasing “sensitive” government documents in 2012.
After these documents were made public in June 2013, Snowden left the US and travelled to Hong Kong. He then allowed the newspapers to reveal his identity to the world.
The US government charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.
Each of these charges are punishable by a maximum of ten years in prison in the United States.
After the US filed charges and called for Snowden to be extradited, he left Hong Kong and headed to Russia with passport papers issued by Ecuador.