OPINION: The decision to proceed with local body elections in Christchurch and surrounding districts hit by the earthquake is undoubtedly the correct one.
Immediately after the tremor doubts had been raised about whether it would be practically possible to hold the elections as scheduled. Aside from the fact that it was not clear at first to what extent candidates would be able to resume normal electioneering, there were also questions about how postal ballots would reach those who have had to leave their homes and where the tallying of votes could take place once the ballots were returned.
Election officials are now satisfied that any of these difficulties that may arise – and there are sure to be others – can be dealt with and will not compromise the integrity of the vote. Officials will no doubt be particularly diligent to ensure that those voters who are not at their normal addresses because of the quake will not be disenfranchised.
Voting papers will go out as scheduled on Friday and polling will close on October 9. The process will be an essential part of the quake-hit area's return to something like normality.
In fact, the elections will not be normal. For one thing, local-body elections are usually a matter of indifference to a large proportion of the eligible electorate. Turnout, even with a postal ballot, is normally no better than about 40 per cent, a reflection in many cases of the ordinariness of much of the business undertaken by local councils. This year, however, given the large job of rebuilding to be done in Christchurch and elsewhere and the many decisions affecting the future shape of parts of the region to be made, there is a strong incentive for voters to take a greater interest in the outcome of the polling.
The candidates' electioneering for the election have inevitably been interrupted. The Mayor, Bob Parker, suspended his electioneering to work punishing 20-hour days co-ordinating the Christchurch City Council's response to the disaster. His performance in this task, surely the most challenging faced by any local-body leader in recent times, has drawn praise from all quarters. He would clearly be happy to be judged in the race for the Christchurch mayoralty on this performance. He has more than enough of this work to keep him occupied and justify his absence from the rest of the campaign. Indeed, there might be some who would criticise him if he did allow himself to be distracted from that work.
Parker's main rival, Jim Anderton, who until the earthquake had been the front-runner for the Christchurch mayoralty, is keen to resume electioneering. His principal aim will be to urge voters to judge Parker on the whole of his three years in office, not just the time since the earthquake.
Anderton has been weakened, though, by his insistence until now that he would not quit Parliament if he won the mayoralty. He asserted that he could handle both jobs "standing on his head". It was an assertion that did not go down well before the earthquake and has now been shown to be horribly overweening. Anderton belatedly recognised this with his announcement yesterday that he would in fact relinquish his parliamentary seat if he became mayor. But the concession was made slowly and reluctantly. He had dithered over it long enough for some voters at least to call into question his judgment and temperament for the job.
- © Fairfax NZ News