THE city’s festivals champion has been ousted from the helm of Edinburgh’s foremost multicultural event following a secret ballot that catapulted an Asian board member into the hot seat for the first time.
Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie was forced to surrender the chair of Edinburgh Mela after former councillor Shami Khan challenged his leadership in a head-to-head election at an AGM on Monday.
It is thought Councillor Cardownie had been prepared to resign the position he held for six years but performed an abrupt volte-face on discovering Shami Khan was lined up for the role.
An insider said: “If the challenge had come from anyone else but Shami I think Steve [Cardownie] would have stood aside.
“He doesn’t think Shami is what the Mela needs and his influence may have consequences for the working relationship between the Mela and its artistic director.”
Former Labour councillor Mr Khan was voted out of the City Chambers amid a devastating election defeat for his party in 2007, but in June was appointed Deputy Lieutenant – a senior representative of the Queen.
He is the first ethnic minority chairman of the multicultural bonanza in its 20-year history. Speaking about his new role, Mr Khan said he was “very happy” and the appointment of an Asian chairman had been “long overdue”. He pledged to make the Mela even more culturally diverse but will continue to promote a strong Scottish presence.
He said: “Many of us thought we needed a change now and we didn’t want to see someone as a lifetime chair.”
Edinburgh Mela, now held in Leith Links and receiving around £76,000 in annual council funds, has seen its reputation soar under Cllr Cardownie’s stewardship, becoming a staple of the Capital’s festival calender.
It is thought the ousted chairman will quit with a new councillor appointed to represent the local authority.
Councillor Cardownie said: “I think everyone recognises that Edinburgh Mela has gone from strength to strength. After six years I can understand why people thought it was time for a change. Obviously people felt it was time to have a member of the Asian community as chair and we parted on good terms. I wish them all the best for the future.”