Meeting democracy’s needs

The Porter Report - A monthly update on the business world from leading writer David Porter

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Tauranga is currently absorbed in the run-up to its first local council elections in around four years. Next month’s issue of Bay of Plenty Business News will contain a full analysis of the results.

But at this point it is quite clear that the elections have attracted an abundance of candidates. These include both experienced former councillors and mayors, as well as new and relatively unknown contenders.

Clearly there is pent-up demand for a return to local democracy with all its flaws and strengths, following four years of the city being effectively administered by four commissioners.

This is not a reflection on the competence of the commissioners, but simply to say New Zealanders like to exercise their own judgement as to how they are governed.

It is worth observing that New Zealand is a very free country in almost all aspects, and especially in its elections and media coverage. Yes, post the most recent nationwide elections there has been the typical griping from some of the losers.

But the general consensus seems to be that Labour had a good run in office and was fairly beaten at the polls. That result was anticipated, in my view, by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s precipitate and unexpected decision to resign from the role of Labour leader ahead of the elections.

The public demanded change. And they have full access to democratic levers through which change can be effected. If the new coalition is seen as not succeeding in its aims by a majority of voters, they will in turn be voted out at the end of their term.

The alternatives

But if we look elsewhere in the world, we can see how very lucky New Zealand is to enjoy a free and fair election process compared to many other countries.

Consider, to take just one example, the appalling situation on the African continent, where Sudan is essentially disintegrating as a civil society and flooding its near neighbours with refugees.

According to news coverage, conflict erupted in the Sudan after fighting broke out in the capital Khartoum between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in April 2023. Essentially, an internal dispute between factional elites. This has triggered the largest humanitarian crisis in the region, according to a UNHCR report.

By the end of 2023, 6.1 million Sudanese were newly internally displaced, while over 1.5 million people had fled to the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

And, according to the UNHCR, those leaving the country included refugees who had sought safety in the Sudan prior to the conflict.

I think it is safe to assume that enjoying safe access to election polls has fallen considerably below dire concerns about personal safety and the urgent need for food that are preoccupying these displaced people.

I can only urge Tauranga’s residents to access the copious information that is readily available about candidates, and make sure that you cast your vote in this council election.

Related: The messy business of democracy

David Porter
David Porter
THE PORTER REPORT - A monthly update on the business world from David Porter

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