The SRC elections in recent years have seen significant change, particularly surrounding Chinese international students and their representation within USyd student bodies.
In 2018, Panda’s Jacky (Yisheng) He had been elected SRC President largely through Chinese international student support. Furthermore, voting for the SRC Presidential Elections increased from 3576 cast votes in 2017, to 4085 in 2018, and then to the high of 5362 in 2019. Finally, there has also been a change in the political balance of power; mere months after their inception, Panda gained 25% of all votes cast in the SRC elections of 2017 — a share of votes even greater than any single domestic faction at the time.
Coronavirus has significantly shaken up the campaigning process and the voting procedure for both domestic and international students in this year’s election. However, the other, the more dramatic change could arguably be the complete disintegration of Panda as a faction — just three years after their establishment, which follows the footsteps of Advance (a rival faction which had previously also vied for the representation of Chinese international students). Due to the fact that Panda obtained 7 of 33 total seats in the 92nd Council of the SRC during last year’s elections, and the status quo of Panda was the largest university faction for a time, this disintegration is undoubtedly momentous for the student community as a whole.
With the benefit of hindsight, this sudden, abrupt demise of Panda could be attributed to a series of dramas and scandals plaguing the faction, which all occurred within the public view.
In March 2020, it was revealed that a USyd SRC Helper Account on Wechat — originally created and controlled by Panda’s SRC councillors with the purposes of aiding students with the handling of sensitive issues such as academic dishonesty – had been privatised and taken over by a migration agency without approval from the SRC Council. This follows the prior refusal of these Panda councillors to requests demanding the SRC Helper Account be handed over to the 92nd SRC Council in the beginning of the year for their continuing operation in service of the student body.
In May 2020, during the USU elections, whilst the campaign for Panda’s nominee, Jiale (Wayne) Wang, was off to a successful start, it was soon derailed by allegations of bribery just days following the campaign’s launch. As reported by Pulp at the time, Wang professed his intention to forgo his salary in order to fund Panda’s election campaigns. This contradicted the USU Electoral Regulations, which prohibited bribery, defining it as “… the giving, procuring, promising, offering … [of] employment, position or material resources in exchange for preferential treatment or to induce a voter to vote…”
In addition, Wang’s promise that he would “attempt to increase the publicity of Panda” through the leveraging of USU resources and connections placed significant doubt on his ability to act in an independent manner for the management of USU responsibilities. Ultimately, it was Wang’s request for all members of the private group who read the message to keep it secret, to “please not leak this outside as this does not comply with the regulations” that led to the suspension of his campaign, and his disqualification from the election altogether. This is because not only did the quote imply the nature of the actions being one of ‘wilful misconduct’, it also undermined his later claim that he had done “everything [to] obey the rule [sic]” in a statement to Pulp published on the 13th of May.
As a result of these controversies, and other sources of dissatisfaction, including the lack of adequate engagement between the elected representatives and the student body and the low attendance rates of Panda representatives for SRC meetings, the faction gradually lost the favour of its internal members, and also the wider student body.
With its reputation tarnished, the original faction has slowly ceased to function. Some members of Panda have exited the stupol scene altogether, whilst other members have decided to rebrand into a new faction named “Penta”.
Now, given the upcoming SRC elections for the 93rd Council, there are significant implications for both domestic and international students. For domestic student factions, this provides an opportunity for them to capitalise on the international student votes with their policies and ideas as there no longer exists a well established faction in representing Chinese international students. For international students, there also exists an ability for rising factions and groups to capitalise on these votes, which is what “Phoenix”, a faction only established in the past month, has decided to do.
However, despite Panda no longer existing as a faction, its influence and legacy continues to be observed, through a need for Chinese international factions to distance themselves from Panda and their malpractices as well as through a desire for factions to prove that they are fundamentally capable of creating change as opposed to simply engaging in the tactics of identity politics. This can be seen in Phoenix’s self-proclaimed values of “professionalism”, “expertise”, “objectivity”, and “accountability” and their promotional material being centred on the past work experiences of their SRC nominees. However, the extent of success of this strategy remains to be observed.