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Old dog still in scrap for top spot

ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja.

ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

By the time you read this, it might be all over. But what a scrap it has been.

Cast your mind back three weeks when Zed Seselja declared he was challenging his former mentor, Gary Humphries, for the Canberra Liberals' No.1 Senate spot.

Seselja's sleight of hand had Humphries looking gone for all money, hopelessly outmanoeuvred and ill-prepared for the younger man's premeditated attack.

Liberal Senator Gary Humphries.

Liberal Senator Gary Humphries. Photo: Colleen Petch

Seselja seemed supremely confident, without saying so, that he had the numbers to prevail.

But as the 200-odd preselectors prepare to cast their votes on Saturday morning, the battlefield has quite a different complexion.

Humphries has fought his way back, aided and abetted by former party president and long-time Seselja critic Gary Kent, and their main weapon has been Seselja's cleverness itself.

Humphries and Kent, along with their allies, have tried to appeal to the Liberals' sense of fair play by painting Seselja and co as devious and underhanded.

Seselja's forces made shrewd use of the complacency among Humphries' supporters, many of whom hadn't bothered in the past six months to attend the party meetings necessary to earn themselves a vote at the Eastlake footy club on Saturday morning.

But many members did rock up to gatherings and they are furious that either through stuff-ups or alleged conspiracies, they still won't be able to vote.

Seselja backers, on the other hand, were invited to two hastily convened meetings at the end of last month - days before Seselja made his move - that ticked all the boxes and were arranged by close associates of Alistair Coe, the man who vehemently denies he did a deal with Seselja to succeed him as local leader.

Then you've got Seselja's control of the party apparatus through divisional president, close ally and former staffer Tio Faulkner, and the absolute majority of Seselja loyalists on the ruling management committee.

The re-appearance in recent weeks of Faulkner and Seselja's brother-in-law and chief strategist Steve Doyle on the Legislative Assembly payroll, both on "temporary contracts", hasn't gone unnoticed by the conspiracy theorists.

Another bad look has been the pleas, and outright threats, from party heavyweights in Seselja's camp for members not to speak to the media about their unhappiness.

Humphries' supporters are convinced they have clawed their way back into the contest through the sheer disgust of Canberra Liberals who might have voted for Seselja.

Just over 200 people will vote at Eastlakes on Saturday morning, less than 30 per cent of the party's local membership and many among the remaining 70 per cent are not thrilled.

Kent is trying to force a full Divisional Council meeting in an effort to have the preselection process scrapped and started again, which means the contest might not be settled definitively by Saturday's vote.

It might be awkward for Kent though, if Humphries actually wins the vote.

But whoever comes out on top in Kingston today, they'll be talking about this one for years.

They'll be holding grudges too.

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