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USU intervenes to hold Chinese Student Society election

Naaman Zhou and Kristi Cheng report

The University of Sydney Union today intervened to conduct the AGM of the Sydney Uni Chinese Student Society (SUCSA), after the club’s membership was dissolved for electoral irregularities.

Voters cast their ballots for the club’s President and Executive, amidst rumours of Chinese consulate influence over the society’s old executive.

USU President Michael Rees said the list was dissolved because “there was evidence not all people who had signed up as members of SUCSA during O-Week had paid their fee for membership”.

“In order to hold an AGM correctly, we must be confident that all people on the membership list of a society are in fact members of that society.”

An email to SUCSA members also informed them the USU would “administrate” this year’s election.  

“This is in response to concerns that SUCSA meetings have not been allowing all members of the club to vote in the club election, which is part of the USU’s requirements. We simply want to ensure that the conduct of the meeting and the society’s elections are fair,” it read.

Today’s election saw many of the old Executive re-elected, seeing off a challenge from a ticket called “Panda for SUCSA”.

Branding themselves as a more inclusive team that represents different nationalities, the Panda ticket had a Vice-President from Hong Kong and a Korean student running for the role of Communication and Australia-China Relations Director.

They claimed to be more student-focused than the old executive, who had been dogged by rumours of corporate influence and a “deep connection to foreign entities”, according to a campaign statement from Panda.

Further controversy arose as members of Panda complained to C&S that the meeting closed before all members had time to vote. Public listings scheduled the meeting from 12-2pm, but the C&S-appointed Returning Officer closed the meeting at 1.30, saying the agenda had been completed.  

“The agenda of the AGM anticipated eight items for member consideration, however the USU staff managing the meeting neglected four of these”, read the complaint. “The ballot was closed at 1.20pm, denying the franchise of [more than 40] students”.

The USU has shown no indication of accepting the complaint.

“Almost all election notices for clubs and societies include a possible timeframe of the meeting. This is simply the time for which we had booked the room, not an assurance of the ballot being open until that time,” said Rees.

“[The Returning Officer] has sole discretion over the conduct of the meeting…There is no voting subsequent to the conclusion of Annual General Meetings.”

Surprisingly, four campus Young Liberals were seen in attendance and with voting rights. Former Sydney Uni Liberal Club President Will Dawes, as well as Dimitry Palmer, Jackson Newell and Manning Jeffrey were seen casting ballots.

All four are members of the Soft Right faction that earlier this year was involved in a factional stoush within the Liberal Club that also saw its membership list dissolved by the USU.

The USU had imposed strict membership criteria that required members to sign up in person at the Clubs & Societies Office, 7 days prior to the meeting. “This opportunity was open for two weeks and was widely publicized both in English and Chinese”, said Rees.