Andy Asquith and Andrew Cardow: Mayoral candidates should show their real colours

What is shaping as a tough election contest between the 19 candidates for Auckland's mayoralty should increase the likelihood of a strong voter turnout. Photo / Brett Phibbs
What is shaping as a tough election contest between the 19 candidates for Auckland's mayoralty should increase the likelihood of a strong voter turnout. Photo / Brett Phibbs

• Dr Andy Asquith and Dr Andrew Cardow are senior lecturers from Massey University's School of Management.

Here we go again - our triennial festival of local body elections has finally kicked off.
Already some key questions leap out, questions that should raise an eyebrow at what we call our democratic process.

A key concern this year will be the level of voter turn out - especially in Auckland.

After the debacle of 2013, where the centre right couldn't find a credible candidate to challenge the almost certain-to-be-re-elected incumbent Len Brown, we at least seem to have a contest on our hands this time around.

A key aspect of any election is that it should be contested. A contest (in theory) ensures we have debate amongst competing candidates to secure our support.

A contested election helps to educate us on the issues. It also increases our likelihood of engaging and voting because differing camps of supporters cajole us to support their candidate.

In this context, is it not odd that none of the political parties has seen fit to run a candidate in the Auckland ward of Franklin.

This means that not only are voters in Franklin denied a choice of who will be their councillor; it's also very likely that voter turnout in Franklin will be low, given the lack of local interest in this year's elections.

This is further exacerbated in the Franklin Local Board Wairoa Subdivision where there are only three candidates for the three vacancies.

The Labour Party seems not to have learnt its lesson from Orakei in 2013 when it let Cameron Brewer stand unopposed, allowing Len Brown's most vociferous critic on council to have a free run.

It should be noted that nationally, over the past three electoral cycles (2007-2013), at one stage or another the residents of 23 councils have been left without a mayoral election - as only one candidate has stood. This has important implications for local democracy because mayoral elections have a big impact on total voter turnout - as seen in Auckland in 2013.

This year in Grey District Council, Tony Kokshoorn will be returned to office for the fourth consecutive time - unopposed.

While he played an exceptional role while mayor following the Pike River mine disaster and has an impeccable standing in the local community, you have to ask where local democracy sits within this scenario.

A rather perverse example of this sort of position was recently reported in the Herald.

In Opotiki the incumbent mayor is alleged to have suggested a challenger stand aside to save the ratepayers the cost of an election - but given that a third candidate has emerged, it seems his efforts were in vain.

Another key question relates to the major political parties. Do Labour and National actually take local government and politics seriously enough? The general absence of party branding at local body elections suggests they do not.

Around the country we have "retread" politicians who once sat in Parliament and proudly waved their political party flags, who are now seeking our support to become local body politicians as "Independent" candidates.

Back in 2010 those well known "Independents" John Banks and Len Brown hotly contested the new Auckland mayoralty.

This year we are having our intelligence insulted by Phil Goff - who wants us to believe that as a current, very senior Labour MP, he can still be "Independent" as Auckland's next mayor. For balance, of course, we should note that the leading "Independent" - Vic Crone - is in effect the National Party's candidate and great hope for removing a centre-left voice from the mayor's office.

Thirteen of the 19 Auckland mayoral candidates, Goff and Crone included, all claim to be "Independent". Rather than hide behind the mask of independence, is it not time for serious candidates and the political parties they represent to take local elections seriously and stop treating local electors as mugs?

Be honest. Say what you represent and, in the spirit of openness and transparency, be clear about who is supporting your candidacy.

Irrespective of what you may think of the politics of candidates standing under a Christians Against Abortion, Auckland Legalise Cannabis or Communist League banner, you at least have an idea of the general thrust of their agenda.

- NZ Herald

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