Local body electoral farce?

Last updated 14:26 23/09/2010

Once every three years we get to postal vote for a number of local bodies, from city councils through to health boards and every conceivable quango in between. At least in Auckland this year it is simplified.

Outside of the mayoralty, virtually none of the other candidates are widely identifiable, but certainly there may be some subconscious recognition in local areas for local people.

Party politics is alive and well, but slightly buried so it is not obvious. Citizens and ratepayers have always been National in drag.

Thank god we are not like Australia where it is compulsory to vote (at least in national Politics). Can you imagine what the outcome could be if this were the case in local body politics in NZ? 

For heaven’s sake, the top polling mayoral candidate in one poll, for the Auckland super-city elections, was Bob Parker. He is mayor of Christchurch and not standing in Auckland.

As an aside, responding well to crisis is a sure fire election winner. Parker is top of the pops in Christchurch as well, so an earthquake saved him from an Anderton-led route. Now here is an idea. With Act in disarray (I can’t think of any self respecting person who would want to share a room with Rodney and his lot let alone a bed), and the Maori Party continually playing Oliver Twist, why not have a snap election as well? Key would romp in; he is looking every bit a statesmen.

Back to local body politics. Historically only around 30 percent of the registered voters vote - which is fortunate as if the other 70 percent voted in Auckland they would be looking for Bob Parker, and wouldn’t find him, so they probably would go random, and the net result is a lottery, or is it?

Well not quite, the 30 percent  who know what they want, will form logical blocks around the lead candidates and since local body elections are still first past the post, hey presto the right guy likely will still win. But the bleeding heart liberals will say that the leader duly elected under such a system has no moral mandate, because likely in a race like the Auckland mayoralty with a 100 percent turnout the winning candidate might only have 10 to 15 percent of the total vote.

Assuming the 30 percnt who do vote, vote because they care and are passionate, then it’s likely they are informed and the Bob Parker factor won’t be an issue. The dopes in Auckland who want Parker for Mayor probably won’t vote any way.

I have in the past been deeply concerned that NZers don’t vote, and felt that apathy is what allows bad things to happen. I challenge all shareholders to vote and behave like owners. It is better than it was, but shareholder voting statistics still resemble local body politics. Maybe I was wrong. Stupid, uniformed voting is worse than having the vote restricted to those who care.

However, some care too much and are not beyond trying to rig the polls. First past the post is susceptible to this, particularly with marginal electorate manipulation. In local body politics, low turnouts can mean quite small numbers change things.

Now before I complain about the apparent manipulation of the Papatoetoe ward in Auckland by the Indian Community, I should fess up to doing the same thing myself in 1984 (I wouldn’t want to be caught out like some Act MPs). In 1984, I lived in Mount Albert. A Labour horse could get elected in Mount Albert, and arguably  this occurred. So I deliberately moved into Mount Eden so I could vote Labour to get rid of Muldoon.   I did actually move into Mount Eden for the requisite three months, and I only moved myself, not my entire family and I also didn’t register myself multiple times or use false identities.

What happened in Papatoetoe is a number of Indians allegedly moved into the area to most likely vote for the Indian candidates. Certainly overcrowding in South Auckland is an issue, but 80-plus electors in one house? Clearly Electoral Act offences have been committed and the police are investigating.

You might well ask why they would do this? Democracy is a very western concept and is anchored in our values and beliefs, it is naive of us to attempt to impose democracy on others without understanding their cultures and beliefs.

So the farce of local body politics, is this, small turnout, means low numbers matter, those who care can and do fight it out, and it sometimes becomes quite dirty. It is a once- in-three year wake up call for the rest of us, about how little most of us care, and how uninformed and stupid most of us are politically.

The new issue this time, is the role of immigrants, and the impact beyond their numbers that they can have in local body politics when they behave in our country as they might in their own (and even with MMP their impact can be decisive in national politics too).

We really do need to confront the issue of universal suffrage head on. Should permanent residents to our country really have the right to vote the moment they jump off the boat?

My argument is that only citizens of our country should be entitled to vote. Anyone who is here without taking a citizenship stake in our country should not be entitled to vote at all. Citizenship should be special, and we should all take pride in our citizenship of NZ. So I would go a step further, and say, every citizen must swear an oath of allegiance to NZ and no citizen may carry a passport other than a NZ passport. All those who want foriegn passports as well should be denied NZ citizenship.

Why do I think this? Because voting is important. It is about setting the path for our country’s future. I would prefer to trust those that have nowhere else to go with the future of this country than a bunch of immigrants fresh out of the transit lounges of our airports.

Now I took this line in a speech around a month ago, and an English immigrant to NZ, said to me afterwards , that he had lived in a number of countries, he is an intelligent and desirable worker, and this is the first country he has ever been entitled to vote in as soon as he landed. He was astounded and agreed with me.

So lessons out of the local body farce.

• Better that those who care vote and those who don’t, don’t. Low turnout is likely to be better than a big turnout.

• First past the post appears to still work,  particularly as it neutralises the random voting of the stupid.

• Crisis is good for politicians, if they behave well.

• Immigrants don’t understand our culture and can have devastating effects on our electoral processes. They see democracy in a different light to us.

It is time for NZ to find its national identity and some pride in that identity.

33 comments
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cm   #1   02:51 pm Sep 23 2010

I'm an immigrant, though now I've been here and only have NZ citizenship.

I think it wrong to discount immigrant opinions. By immigrating, immigrants have thrown their lot in with other NZ residents. They pay taxes the same as anyone else and use the same services as anyone else. So why should they not get the right to participate in the process that determines how these monies are going to be spent?

If there are problems (such as the 80 voters registered in one house) then fix those. The same loop-hole could equally be exploited by Maoris, fundamentalist christians or pretty much any group that wants to influence an election. Just targeting immigrants does not fix the real problem and is xenophobic.

For the most part people don't vote because they don't see sufficient difference between candidates to warrant the effort.

As an example, during apartheid-era South Africa whites had some pretty large issues to vote about: continuing white exclusivity or allowing non-whites the vote. This single issue pretty much defined parties and candidates and determined how you would vote.

Most NZ voters could not tell the difference between a Labour party or National party manifesto, let alone the finer points between some low-ranking local body candidates. If there's insufficient difference to motivate you then why vote?

Having sad that though, it only takes 5 years before a permanent resident can apply for citizenship. Loss of 5 years voting probably does not make any real difference.

Restricting NZ citizenship to those that renounce other citizenship would be challenging. Some citizenships, such as Switzerland, cannot be renounced (to prevent people escaping conscription). Once a Swiss always a Swiss.

MikeC   #2   03:04 pm Sep 23 2010

Do you really think that 5 years residence (for citizenship) is enough to change someone's underlying values?

Why is it that it is "naive of us to attempt to impose democracy on others without understanding their cultures and beliefs", but you think it is OK for them to spend 5 years here not changing their basic attitudes and then get to vote?

If they want to replicate the society they came from why are they here in the first place?

I have plenty of pride in my identity as a New Zealander and am thoroughly grateful that this country is not (yet) a basket case as many have become in the last 50 years.

There are New Zealand-born citizens (of all colours, not just the first immigrants) who are hell-bent on promoting overt racist representation and entitlement.

Why do we expect immigrants to be any better?

Andrew Stevenson   #3   03:04 pm Sep 23 2010

Hey, not that I mind too much, but how come this blog and Mr Minto's are in the business section rather than the political section?

Your example of moving to Mt Eden is a good example of why I like MMP: if I live in a Blue seat, my Red vote counts, and if I live in a Red Seat, my Blue vote still counts. But MMP is not present in local body politics, so...?

"Better that those who care vote and those who don’t, don’t. Low turnout is likely to be better than a big turnout." Yes and no. I'd prefer (almost) everyone was engaged in the elections and made informed decisions. Shouldn't our goal be to improve voter engagement? Or is our goal only that our "side" wins?

"First past the post appears to still work..." Oh yeah? While the Auckland Mayoralty is likely to be decided amongst two candidates, imagine if we have three strong candidates. Manukau had this, um, two elections ago? You don't think STV would work better in the single-position elections?

"Crisis is good for politicians..." No, crisis is good for the media who can then sell newspapers, advertising time, or clicks. Crises tend to mean politicians focus on themselves and how they look (via the media) rather than working with and in the electorate. This is a shame.

"Immigrants don’t understand our culture..." etc etc. Gee, I dunno. About half of our immigrants are white (SA, Oz, US, UK etc) and I think they could have a good stab at our culture. And I am loathe to say that the other groups (Pasifika, Asian etc) couldn't. You think Pasifika people don't understand our culture or democracy? Really?

My two cents...

Graham Atkinson   #4   05:03 pm Sep 23 2010

A minor point of course is that while the citizens of Super City are using the FPP system the more enlightened cities such as Wellington ahve moved to STV a much more reliable system.

Chris M   #5   05:36 pm Sep 23 2010

I sometimes wonder why so much effort is put into getting immigrants who have little understanding of what is happening in the community to vote. I realize this statement probably labels me as a shocking specimen of political incorrectness, but if one is fairly new to a country or doesn't understand the language how can a wise voting choose be made? Votes for citizens only? Possibly, but disenfranchising existing long term permanent residents may not be the way to go. Those that have been here and paid tax for many years are surely entitled to representation.

Adam   #6   09:35 pm Sep 23 2010

Agreed, re: voting status of permanent residents. I have never understood why they are able to vote. I think if they are engaged enough in this country's future to vote, they are engaged enough to become a citizen.

Gibber   #7   07:26 am Sep 24 2010

Bruce,

Disagree about First Past the Post

With Single Transferable VOte I get to put the politician I detest the most last. And, in New Zealand, that means there are a lot I DON'T want to see in office. First past the post means sometimes I have to hold my nose and tick a slightly less reprehensible characters name rather than the most odious name. I would like to pleasure of putting them both at the bottom of the list thanks very much.

Real Dude   #8   09:30 am Sep 24 2010

@ Adam #, not so simple buddy. You have to live in NZ for 5 years before you qualify for citizenship. In my time, it was 2. That is a lot of taxes being paid with no ability to have a say....

Katipo Kate   #9   10:33 am Sep 24 2010

"the random voting of the stupid" - What an incredibly arrogant attitude Bruce! If I vote for a minority candidate I am stupid? I have no problems with recent immigrants being able to vote. Surely you're a believer in 'no taxation without representation'? You mentioned that the police are investigating the Papatoetoe incident - does that not indicate that the system has processes to deal with any impropriety? And as for 'It is time for NZ to find its national identity and some pride in that identity' I think you have been indulging in too much time with the American Tea Party Republicans. I would hate to see our politics devolve to that disgusting clearly racist level!

Adam   #10   11:09 am Sep 24 2010

@Real Dude #8 Them's the breaks, buddy. That's the way it is in other countries and you would be hard pressed to convince me that you should be entitled to vote in two different countries while only paying tax in one. Besides, is citizenship only about taxation?


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