Clean campaigns will preserve our democratic ideals

Clean campaigns will preserve our democratic ideals

New Zealand goes to polls on Saturday, September 19, 2020

Venkat Raman

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that General Election will be held on Saturday, September 19, 2020 has brought a note of excitement among the politically conscious, although many had rightly guessed the date earlier.

Take off with infrastructure spend

Ms Ardern, joined by a few of her Labour Part cabinet colleagues, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters and Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw, announced a whopping $12 billion infrastructure development project, that would cover many areas of urban and rural New Zealand. The plan, announced in Auckland on Wednesday, January 29, will cover improvements to our roads, rail and other networks, education, health and other sectors.

National Party Leader Simon Bridges said that that the Labour Party had dusted off his Party’s policy but described the infrastructure spend was ‘two years too late.’

That retort was indicative of more brickbats to come.

It is the duty of the Opposition to hold the government to account. We remember how Labour MPs savaged their National counterparts for nine years while in Opposition (from 2008 to 2017) – but all of these are a part of politics.

Ferocious Elections

Elections are fought in the free world with ferocity, with politicians and their supporters accusing their opponents of almost anything that they believe, without the obligation of having to provide any proof. Until recently, general elections in New Zealand were marked by humour, goodwill for each other, with hardly any personal references. But over the past few years, the gloves have come off and politicians and their supporters have not only begun to punch but also resort to a war of words, which, according to many, is ‘Dirty Politics.’

If the past three years have been any indication, General Election 2020 promises to be more accusatory with personal attacks, and dirtier than ever before. Worse, more than the candidates, those campaigning for them are likely to get nasty.

Several people of Indian origin believe that they deserve to be in Parliament but since there would be little chance of being elected at constituencies, they would lobby for a good rank on the List of various Parties. It remains to be seen how National and Labour will consider candidates on their List, while New Zealand First and ACT may perhaps field one candidate each.

National Party’s woes

Some National Party supporters are already saying that they enjoy such high percentage of voter support that they would be able govern on their own.

While some Opinion Polls have placed National either above Labour or on a par but dangers of over-confidence are not unknown to seasoned politicians.

Besides, the National Party is still facing questions over its handling of donations despite the Serious Fraud Office declining to pursue charges against it. That suggests investigators have gathered enough evidence to be confident of success, although nothing can be taken for granted and those accused are entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Mr Bridges is young, and has been a Minister in the previous National government. We hope that he will campaign on the merits of his Party, on his own merits as a Leader and how he would make a difference as the head of the next government. That would enhance his credibility.

Democracy in distress?

More people in the rich world are dissatisfied with democracy today than at any time since the mid-1990s, according to an academic study. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have combed datasets on attitudes towards democracy for 25 years; in 2019 the proportion of those unhappy with democracy rose to 58%. This ‘malaise’ is blamed on governments’ inability to cope with threats such as global warming.

Six years ago, speaking at the Fourth Annual Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture, former Commonwealth Secretary General (and former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of New Zealand) Sir Don McKinnon examined the problems and challenges that we as New Zealanders face because of people’s disillusionment with democracy and those who are looking seriously at other forms of government.

“The volume of discussion in recent times in international magazines suggests that we have to positively respond to this environment or lose the argument by default in favour of systems that have superficial appeal, lack a substantial foundation and have no real evidence of working. New Zealanders must make a clear and decisive choice and hold those elected to account. They must be forced to perform. This is time for action. We must exercise our franchise and ensure that only those who deserve to be in public office are elected,” he said.

Those views are relevant today as New Zealand faces another General Election.

Double Devolution

Some 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. However, we are not sure of the efficacy of such a proposal.

As Sir Don said, the institution of democracy can survive and progress only if there are checks and balances and prevention of dominance of one person.

“Every democratic Government faces the challenge of ensuring that one dominant personality does not in the end make every decision as when things go badly and against them, as they always do with the swings of public opinion. They will pull down the pillars of the temple with them,” he said.

This is a veritable chance that should not be lost.

New Zealanders must make a clear and decisive choice and hold those elected to account. They must be forced to perform.

This is time for action. We must exercise our franchise and ensure that only those who deserve to be in public office are elected.


Photo Caption:

  1. Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern announcing General Election 2020
  2. National Party Leader Simon Bridges says,’ Bring it on.’

(Pictures by Radio New Zealand)

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