Liberal party conservatives have been blasted out of the top party positions in the ACT, leaving an empty chair temporarily as president.
In what has been described by some Liberal members as chaotic scenes, the long-time ally of former ACT senator Zed Seselja, John Cziesla, was voted out of the position to an empty chair 117 votes to 123 during a fiery meeting on Tuesday night that went on for more than four hours.
The revolt was driven by fed-up Liberal party moderates who have endured the party being out of power in the territory for more than a generation and losing the plum Senate spot that had been held by the party since 1975.
"It was the turning of the tide," one said. "This is a huge denunciation of the angry Zed mob."
Another said it is "hugely significant" and an indication the party has shifted and is prepared to back Elizabeth Lee as Liberal leader.
They said it indicates the depth of concern over the way the division has been run that people voted against the president when there was no immediate alternative.
Canberra Liberals are claiming a "new beginning" and a major rebuff to the conservatives, who have long controlled the party, after the fractious and drawn out annual general meeting that went on for more than four hours.
According to several sources who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak freely, Mr Cziesla, who had been president of the Canberra Liberals since 2017 and vice president before that, crucially did not have the backing of Ms Lee.
The Canberra Times understands Mr Cziesla faced questions about the loss of the Senate seat and why his ticket for the party's management committee was all male.
The key party position has been declared vacant, just shy of a year out from the 2024 territory election, and will be filled at another meeting soon. It is understood an expected contender for president, moderate Nick Tyrell, was unable to run for family reasons.
Megan Fox, the preferred moderate candidate, was elected vice president over a former staffer of Mr Seselja, Joshua Osborne-Goldsbrough, but conservative Patrick Fazonne was picked for the policy chair position. Courtney May, who had been endorsed by the moderates, was elected finance director.
One source told The Canberra Times that even though there is no current president "it's going to be a new beginning", while another was concerned the vote was close and said in no way was the Zed-era over for the Canberra Liberals.
It is not clear if Mr Cziesla will recontest the vote.
Tuesday's meeting has exposed the division between Ms Lee and her deputy Jeremy Hanson, who backed opposing candidates for the party's leadership positions.
Key moderates, the Menzies Group, had encouraged its members to vote for candidates that represented "cultural change".
"We see in them the best hope for a break with the failed approaches which have led to six successive ACT election defeats, plus the loss last year of our ACT Senate position. In our view, the need for party renewal and refreshment is urgent," an email to members said.
The Liberals have been out of power in the ACT since 2001 and at the last federal election in May 2022, Mr Seselja lost the Senate seat to the now independent senator David Pocock.
The former ACT senator and conservative Coalition minister is currently contesting preselection for the NSW Liberal Senate vacancy.
In a campaign video last week, the 46-year-old declared his family is joining "the exodus out of Canberra into regional New South Wales".
Mr Seselja is understood not to have been at the Tuesday night Liberal meeting, but members of his family were.
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