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Indian votes can spell electoral fortune

The fact that the two main political parties of New Zealand are serious about getting closer to the Indian community is reflective of the value that they place on Indian votes in the ensuing general election on September 20, 2014.

In two separate events held on April 1 and April 2, Prime Minister and National Party Leader John Key and Labour Leader and Leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe spoke about the importance of this community and said that they have always been inspired and motivated by the hard work, commitment and services rendered by people of Indian origin in New Zealand.

Major difference

Mr Cunliffe said that Carmel Sepuloni (who was present at the event) Labour candidate at Waitakere lost the seat in Election 2011 by nine votes and that these could have come from the Indian community.

As the election campaign of various parties gain heat, New Zealanders will turn their attention to politics, discuss their opinions on issues of interest on talkback shows, and post their comments on social websites and blogs, in addition to writing letters to editors of newspapers.

If the current opinion polls are any indication, the fortunes of National and Labour fluctuate, with some polls suggesting that National would be able to return to power and govern on its own, while yet others indicate that Labour and Green Parties would gain sufficient numbers to capture the treasury benches if a couple of minor parties, especially New Zealand First decide to go with them.

Minor Parties

National Party Leader John Key is keen on inclusive politics and participative Government, with ACT, Maori Party and United Future taken into the equation. With John Banks retiring and with ACT lagging in opinion polls, this Party may not able to make the cut.

While United Future, with its sole MP may decide either way, and with the Maori Party somewhat undecided, National must improve its performance both in terms of electorates and Party votes to remain in the comfort zone.

However, the constitution of the next Council of Ministers could spell a change if Mr Key invites the Green Party to join. But the indications are that the Greens would favour an alliance with Labour, although one cannot rule out if it is able to win major concessions with National in forming the next Government.

Labour initiatives

The Labour Party must show strength- of its party unity and policy initiatives to capture voters’ attention. Mr Cunliffe has announced a number of packages including ‘Best Start’ and ‘KiwiBuild.’ According to him, while the former has been designed to help 95% of families with a ‘Best Start’ payment of $60 per week during the first year of a baby’s life after parental leave expires, the latter will place 100,000 families in their first homes, creating in the process construction and engineering jobs.

Although voting is not compulsory in terms of the existing provisions of the New Zealand Electoral Act, the country has been consistently witnessing declining turnover at the polling booths over the past nine elections.

Polling rates

Electoral Commission statistics show that the rate of polling has been declining over the years. While the turnout of all voters was 89.1% in 1987, it dropped to 85.2% in 1990, remained static (85.2%) in 1993, rose to 88.3% in 1996, again continued the downward trend in 1999 to 84.8% and dropped further to 77% in 2002. In 2005, 80.9% of registered voters exercised their franchise, while they dropped to 79.46% in 2008. Polling reached its lowest in 2011 with only 74.21% casting their votes.

Elections have always excited people, although some surveys showed apathy among the younger members of the society, which is likely to reverse this year, given the fact both Labour and National have introduced a number of new faces as their electoral candidates and on their lists.

The Indian community, which is likely to account for about 80,000 votes throughout the country, has thus far been somewhat indifferent towards politics, divided largely between National and Labour. 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 (both from Labour) have drawn their strength from the community.

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 to any party in any constituency.

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.

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