Language barrier for campaigners

By Lincoln Tan

Howick C&R candidates Dick Quax (left) and  Jami-Lee Ross on the campaign trail. Photo / Supplied
Howick C&R candidates Dick Quax (left) and Jami-Lee Ross on the campaign trail. Photo / Supplied

Botany store manager Jason Khor says he knew little about the candidates standing for Howick, and ticked "whoever has an Asian name" in his voting papers.

He reasoned: "When you don't know the candidates there's always a risk you might vote for the wrong guy. Voting for an Asian candidate will at least give us some hope that our interest will be represented in local body politics."

Housewife Jean Wu, from China, who will be voting for the first time in an election, said it had been difficult to find out more about the candidates because she spoke little English.

"Besides those standing for mayor, Chinese newspapers and television only feature other Asian candidates," Mrs Wu said in Mandarin.

"So, I will just be casting my vote for mayor but not any of the others, because all I know about them is from their pictures on the billboards."

In a ward with a population size of Hamilton and where immigrants make up nearly half, Howick council candidates said the biggest challenge in their campaigns was reaching voters who didn't speak English or access mainstream media.

"The biggest challenge has been about making contact with the ethnic groups, especially the elderly Chinese and Korean voters in the ward," said C&R candidate Dick Quax.

Many in the Chinese community had been telling him they had voted for him, but he was unsure if it was "just a cultural thing" where they were being polite.

Jami-Lee Ross, his C&R teammate, said they had sent out 160,000 letters and personally handed out 20,000 brochures and had 5000 mail drops translated to Chinese and Korean households, who were identified by their surnames.

"Howick is one of the most diverse wards in the Auckland Council, and we knew right from the start that in order to win, we needed to get our message out to the ethnic communities," Mr Ross said.

In a small sampling of 25 voters at Botany Town Centre over the weekend, 18 - mainly immigrants - said they had voted for the mayor but were unsure about what the other candidates stood for.

Most of the New Zealand-born voters, however, told the Herald they had voted and knew exactly who they were voting for.

Independent candidate Sharon Stewart said most of the people she had spoken to said they had already voted.

Figures released yesterday showed voting returns for Howick were running above average with 29.7 per cent having voted.

This was about 10 per cent higher than at the same time in the 2007 local body elections.

David Collings, a Residents and Ratepayers Team candidate, said rates was the biggest concern of the voters he had met.

"Voters don't like seeing money being wasted," he said.

Other candidates standing for the two vacancies in the ward are Mike Padfield (The Voice of Our Community), and Maggie Burrill (Independent).

A total of 38.2 per cent in Howick voted in the last Manukau City election.

- NZ Herald

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