Elections have always excited people, although some surveys showed apathy among the younger members of the society. This is likely to reverse this year, given the fact a more-than-usual number of people of Indian origin have entered the field.
The Indian community, which is likely to account for about 80,000 votes throughout the country, has thus far been somewhat indifferent towards politics, largely supporting one of the major parties. In a number of constituencies which account for a large number of Indian population, especially Mt Albert, Mt Roskill and Manukau East in Auckland, the winning candidates have drawn their strength from the community.
Important, not critical
But this should not be interpreted to mean that the community holds the key to electoral results; far from it; while the Indian vote is important, it is not critical, save for a local board or two.
Elections are just one part of the network of institutions (like honest courts) that need to be in place for democracy to work properly.
Without those institutions, voting sometimes seems, at least in the short term, to make things worse.
In the history of New Zealand polity, never has there been an election in which so many candidates of Indian origin had sought to run for the public office as it is in the ensuing Local Government election. With a record number of candidates of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Fijian origin, this would be the largest contingent representing people as Councillors and Local Board Members in their respective Wards and of course the District Health Board.
The reason for such an unheard of interest in politics is not far to seek. With the increasing number of people from these countries migrating to New Zealand in recent years, it is natural that there would be a rise in the number of people with political ambitions. Besides, unlike Australia, everyone with a permanent residency status has the right to vote.
An increasing number of people across the Auckland Region believe that the South Asian communities have grown over the years and hence deserve adequate representation in local affairs.
These factors have brought about increasing interest of these migrant communities in national and local politics.
The inclusion of three members of Indian origin in New Zealand’s Parliament following the General Election in September 2014 has provided a fillip to the hitherto submerged desire among many to run for the public office.
More than twelve years ago, we created Electionlink pages to allow candidates, their supporters and political parties to have their say without reservation (within the legitimate limits of propriety and decency of course); more important for ordinary people like us to voice our concerns so that they could be heard in the right places, leading to the right action.
There are many who believe that City Fathers and Mothers, elected as Councillors and Local Board Members (not to forget the Mayor) are far more important in the immediate context of life in the neighbourhood than lawmakers in the Federal context. While the Central Government is all too pervasive, its local counterpart is more specific to our daily lives.
From a futuristic point of view, the new interest being shown by the Indian community in local politics augurs well with the integration of smaller Councils, the need to foster Sister-City relations with important cities in India and a host of other emerging opportunities.
The New Zealand Government is keen to involve Indian businesses in its negotiations with its Indian counterpart. The knowledge and expertise of the Diaspora in public affairs and administration will be of immense help in the process.
There is a growing feeling that the Government in Wellington, especially the current Local Government Minister allows Local Councils little autonomy, except to issue alcohol licenses, collecting rubbish and designing lamp-posts.
There is therefore an urgent need to revive what we call, ‘Local Democracy,’ with a decentralised establishment, with Power to the People.
We believe that the solution to better administration rests on ‘double devolution,’ pushing more resources and responsibility for running things from Central to Local Government and from town halls to an amorphous web of charities and voluntary associations.
This is a veritable chance that should not be lost. Aucklanders must make a clear and decisive choice and hold those elected to account. They must be forced to perform.
We do not need moneybags but ordinary people looking after ordinary people.
This is time for action. We must exercise our franchise and ensure that only those who deserve to be in public office are elected.
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