Over half of Christchurch's eligible voters didn't vote in the local body elections, so how exactly legitimate is the Christchurch City Council?
HAVING SPENT THE MONTHS leading up to the local body elections insisting that John Minto could not win the Christchurch mayoralty, the mainstream media were quick to announce that its free advertising on behalf of Lianne Dalziel had helped to propel the corporate-approved candidate that they favoured to a so-called 'landslide' victory.
In fact, the word of the weekend has been 'landslide'. AppArently all the mainstream media trucked on down to Cliche City and took 'landslide' off the vocabulary shelf - sitting there right next to 'going forward' and 'reeling'.
The corporate media say that the good people of Christchurch have spoken overwhelmingly in favour of Lianne Dalziel who, not surprisingly, agrees. She has not been slow to frame her victory as an endorsement of her continued dedication to the corporate rebuild.
Since she and the local media are happily entwined together, she'll largely get away with her claim too. The difficulty with Dalziel's claim of public endorsement for her policies though is that nearly two thirds of Christchurch's eligible voters didn't vote - such is the level of disillusionment and cynicism abut local politics. This is the same kind of alienation from the political process we see expressed at general elections .
Although a clearly puzzled Tina Law of The Press characterised John Minto as 'surprisingly upbeat' about his election defeat, he did attract a creditable 13,000 votes.
Minto had a lot of going against him. He entered the mayoral race at a relatively late stage and he was up against a sitting mayor who had the backing of a local media and the Labour-aligned People's Choice councillors who, despite being - supposedly - against asset sales and the massive rates hike, never voiced a single criticism of her. He also had to campaign against the backdrop of a level of cynicism about local politics born of a mayor and councillors ignoring the wishes of the community that they are supposed to represent. It should be mentioned - frequently - that Dalziel and her council supporters never had a mandate to sell assets and hike up the rates the way that they did.
It will also be interesting to see, once the figures are in, just how much Dalziel spent on her election campaign compared to John Minto.
Perhaps one of the main reasons Minto is not downhearted about his loss is that he exposed Dalziel's weakness on policy, particularly on asset sales. Seemingly determined to flog off council-owned assets when she sees fit, she suddenly backtracked at The Press public debate with Minto when she declared that " We can obtain cash from these companies without selling shares and I can say not a single share from any of these companies needs to be sold to balance the books’
But, just a day later, she was telling RNZ's Morning Report that she would "only confirm that strategic assets would not be sold without public consultation' and that she could not 'guarantee' a single share would not be sold.
But the Christchurch City Council's 'non strategic' assets - such as City Care and the Red Bus company- can be still be sold without public consultation. However, thanks to the campaign of John Minto and Keep Our Assets, Dalziel has a whole lot less room to wiggle on such sales - especially since she and her council supporters like Finance committee chairperson Raf Manji wasted over a million dollars on consultancy fees trying to flog off City Care. This fiasco is likely to haunt Dalziel's mayoralty during her second term.
While the mainstream media want us to think that the local body elections have all been about Lianne Dalziel's 'landslide', the real story about the elections has been the low turnout - as it has been in most of the country.
With so few people bothering to vote, the local body elections have struck the iceberg of legitimacy. With only some 38 percent of Christchurch folk casting a vote, it is debatable whether Lianne Dalziel and her merry band of councillors could actually be described as genuine representatives of the local community. While some have tried to define the voter turnoff as 'apathy' what it really exhibits is an active contempt for a political system that continues to fail to deliver for the majority of people.
Voting in the Christchurch elections has fallen at every election since 1989, when 60 percent all eligible voters actually voted. In 2013 some 42 percent of voters cast a vote.
In Christchurch we have had the absurdity of four sitting councillors, Crs Tim Scandrett (Cashmere ward), Andrew Turner (Banks Peninsula), Jamie Gough (Fendalton) and deputy mayor Vicki Buck (Riccarton) walking back into their council jobs unopposed. One of those councillors, Jamie Gough, has, in the past, had some widely publicised alcohol-induced 'social embarrassments'.
The best result was achieved by councillor Glenn Livingstone who attracted an unspectacular 4,600 votes in his ward. But even Livingston was only up against one opponent who did not enjoy the support and resources of an electoral organisation like the Labour-aligned People's Choice.
Such is the level of voter turnoff these days you can be elected on to council with little more than a thousand votes. This has been the case with Deon Swiggs in the central ward who won his seat with a tiny 1300 votes - and he only beat his main opponent by some 300 votes.
These kind of figures highlight a political system that is confronted by a crisis of legitimacy. While those sitting around the council table in the Hereford Street 'Palace' might have the trappings of power - and are picking up fat six figure salaries for exercising that 'power' - any broad community support for that 'power' continues to crumble beneath their feet.