Voter apathy must end

Editorial Two

Although voting is not compulsory in terms of the existing provisions of the New Zealand Electoral Act, the country has been consistently witnessing a high turnover at the polling booths for several years.

Declining trend

Electoral Commission statistics show that New Zealanders are keen to exercise their franchise with a high percentage of votes polled in 1987 (89.1%), 1990 (85.2%), 1993 (85.2%), 1996 (88.3%), 1999 (84.8%), 2002 (77%) 2005 (80.9%), 2008 (79.46%), 2011 (74.21%) and 2014 (77.90%).

Elections have always excited people, although some surveys showed apathy among the younger members of the society, which is likely to reverse on September 23, 2017, given the fact the race is open as of now.

Indian votes

The Indian community, which is likely to account for about 75,000 votes throughout the country, has thus far been somewhat indifferent towards politics. In a number of constituencies which account for a large number of Indian population, especially Mt Albert and Mt Roskill in Auckland, the winning candidates were both from Labour.

Voter turnout is even more critical in the ensuing election than ever before and both Labour and National have been wooing voters to cast their party votes in their favour – an odd system in which a candidate, defeated at the electorate, can still make it to parliament through the party list. Minority parties (especially Greens and New Zealand First) have thrived on party votes.

That is one of the vagaries of the Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system, which few of us have understood.

Voter turnout from the Indian community would also be critical to both parties since party votes in some key constituencies could tilt the balance in the final analysis.

It is often argued that Indians will not vote if they feel that an election does not offer a chance of real change, what is termed a ‘mobilising election.’ Such change can come either from the party in power or from the one that aspires to get to the beehive.

Increasing awareness

Experience here and elsewhere has proved that when an election can make a difference, turnout rises. On that score, Election 2017 could create history; for, the electorate in general and the Indian community in particular, is increasingly becoming aware that a few hundred votes could change the fortune of a candidate or the party in question. Some say that people badly want the government out, they will go to the polls in greater numbers. But for the moment, they are apathetic, if not content.

In theory, votes should be decisive. People are consulted, a new government is formed; the losers accept the result and political discussions begin again on a new basis and the government and the nation carry on until it is time to poll again.

Elections, in fact, 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.

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