Coalition-free councils much easier to elect
New Zealand is waiting in a state of constitutional hiatus to find out who’s in charge.
We wait for some 384,000 special votes to be counted in the general election – numbers big enough to alter election night results by a seat or two, but unlikely to see a total reversal of fortunes.
We wait to see who will blink first, whether National, or Labour and the Greens, will negotiate a deal with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters that would allow them to lead the country, or whether some even more surprising coalition might emerge.
Meantime, as happened in 1996, the world keeps turning. The country keeps working and the essentials of life continue in the absence of a Government, courtesy of the public service.
The uncertainty and delay provides scope to argue that city and district councils make up a rather more relevant and important, nimble and effective, form of government.
Electors basically get what they vote for, or at least, in an STV election, a portion of what they vote for.
That continues to be the case, despite the fact that central government party politics came to the Palmerston North City Council in 2016.
It was the first time in decades that political parties, Labour and the Greens, launched overt campaigns to elect their selected candidates.
Mayor Grant Smith decried the move, complaining that party politics had no place in the council chamber.
But others argued it was simply a more open and honest way of letting voters know the political colours and values of the individuals standing for election.
It could also, it was suggested, increase the chances of people from diverse backgrounds achieving election with the support of party funding and campaigning across the whole city, necessary since the abolition of wards.
On local government election night, the Green’s sole candidate Brent Barrett charged in as a resounding winner.
And Labour’s Lorna Johnson, previously unsuccessful when standing in her personal capacity, was elected, although the other three candidates on the ticket were not. The sky did not fall. The results were in and the special votes were unlikely to do any more than make the lowest-polling successful candidate and the highest-polling unsuccessful candidate a little nervous for a couple of weeks.
There was a bit of a hiatus, with the mayor and councillors not empowered to act on various duties and responsibilities until the declaration of the final results and their swearing in.
For the most part, the election over, the councillors just got on with the job. All of them. No need for coalition talks or negotiations. No period of limbo while they all jockeyed for position.
There was no need for the mayor to sit down with the two party-endorsed councillors and ask them whether they wanted to be on the governing team, or sit in opposition.
The voters, although obviously not all of the voters, had elected them to a seat at the council table and they were part of the team.
Of course, only having one of each has made things simple.
They do not have a party colleague to caucus with before making up their minds on various issues.
And they certainly don’t have to confer with party chiefs about what to do and say.
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‘‘It's disappointing to see what's happened in Milson but nobody can control the weather.’’ ‘‘Electors basically get what they vote for, or at least, in an STV election, a portion of what they vote for.’’ Janine Rankin
Lorna Johnson, Gabrielle BundyCooke and Brent Barrett.