A buoyant mood prevailed at the election for the president of the Khmer Community of NSW on December 8 at the Liverpool Catholic Club at Prestons. By the time the doors opened at 8.30am an enthusiastic crowd had gathered, waiting to cast their votes.
The election followed a protracted dispute about the rights of local Cambodians to belong to the association. When the last election was held, in 2015, many long-standing members of the community were denied membership and thus the right to vote.
They were prevented from entering the room where the elections were held. VirakUm said people had been locked out of their own community. “The Khmer Community of NSW should belong to all of us,” he said.
We’re ready to hold public meetings to hear your views. And we promise to represent your ideas and thoughts when we talk to the government about the community needs.SORN YIN, newly-elected president, Khmer Community of NSW
A complaint was lodged with Fair Trading about the restrictions on membership. The dispute dragged on for more than two and a half years and it wasn’t until September this year that the Supreme Court approved consent orders for a new election with an independent returning officer to oversee the poll.
Once membership was re-opened, requests to join flooded in and 1200 applications were processed within a few weeks.
There was a strong turnout at the election with 618 members coming to vote. “It showed how much this election matters to the community,” SorathyPoukMichell said. “Some of the older members of the community were worried about finding their way there, so we arranged transport for them.”
Shuttle-buses took people from the Cambodian temples at Bonnyrigg and CanleyVale to the Catholic Club for the election.
SisomarSrey, who’s been a member of the Khmer Community since it was founded in 1976, was one of many who felt it was a relief that the dispute was finally over. “All we wanted was free and fair elections,” she said, “It was time for a change in the leadership.”
The Khmer Community of NSW should belong to all of us.VIRAK UM
The newly-elected president, SornYin, believes his new committee will bring a fresh approach. He pointed to generational change. “I’m the only old one,” he said with a smile.
In his acceptance speech, he announced his team was ready for the challenges ahead. “We’re ready to hold public meetings to hear your views. And we promise to represent your ideas and thoughts when we talk to the government about the community needs.”
A ceremony was held at Bonnyrigg a week later, on December 15, to congratulate the new committee. Traditional musicians and dancers entertained people had come to celebrate. Monks from Cambodian Buddhist temples across Sydney came together to bless the new committee.