A FORMER Skipton Girls' High School student enjoyed a landslide victory when she stood as president of one of the oldest debating societies in the world, only to be ousted a few days later.

Ruzwana Bashir, 20, followed in the footsteps of five British Prime Ministers when she was elected president of the Oxford Union.

The girl from a humble background in Skipton beat her only rival, Georgina Costa, daughter of a vice-president of an American bank, by securing 790 votes to 601, one of the biggest margins in the union's history.

That should have meant she followed Prime Ministers such as William Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, Herbert Asquith, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath into the president's chair.

Instead Miss Bashir was denied the chance of becoming the first British-born Asian to hold the post because of an electoral technicality.

In keeping with tradition, each candidate must display his or her manifesto on a noticeboard so that it is open to question before it is distributed.

Miss Bashir underlined specific points and wrote questions directly onto Miss Costa's manifesto, thus breaking Rule 33 of the society's constitution.

Despite being watched by two election officials, no mention was made of this infringement until after the results had been announced.

Ambrose Faulks, a former president and friend of Miss Costa, lodged the complaint after declaration of the result.

At a tribunal at the start of December Miss Bashir admitted underlining certain parts of the manifesto and writing questions above it.

She believed that this was an appropriate way to make comments about the claims made on her opponents' manifesto.

This month the tribunal ruled that the election result had not been affected, but it had no choice but to enforce the penalty of disqualification which is laid out in the rules.

Current Oxford Union president Edward Tomlinson said: "The main problem is the clause that states that any breach of Rule 33 leads to automatic disqualification, no matter how trivial the breach."

Mr Tomlinson explained that he would like to make alterations to this particular clause during his term as president.

"It is my aim to change things," he declared.

Miss Bashir has received considerable sympathy at the university.

As a member of the Oxford Union standing committee, she is unable to comment on the incident, but friends believe she will be standing for the post again.

Diana Chambers, former headteacher of Skipton Girls High, said she was not surprised Ruzwana had done so well in the elections.

She said: "Everybody knew her and she always had an outgoing personality. She was very bright, very intelligent. I always said she'd go far."

Further controversy surrounds the election as Miss Costa's father, Ken, is vice-president of union sponsors UBS Warburg Investment bank.

Miss Costa is coming under a lot of criticism over her actions and, after the tribunal, standing committee member Tim Ayles resigned.

Former President Ben Fiefert said: "I personally think that it is very unfortunate. Had I been in the position that Miss Costa is in, I would not be been happy to take up a position that people did not really want me in."

He added: "I think the tribunal could have interpreted the rules differently and they could have fined Ruzwana."

Other former presidents of the Oxford Union include Benazir Bhutto, who went on to become Prime Minister of Pakistan, former Conservative leader William Hague and playwright Dennis Potter.

Speakers at its debates have included Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Richard Nixon and Nelson Mandela, Kermit the Frog, Mick Jagger and Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock from Star Trek).