Reflections of an Independent Candidate
By Anne Hunt
The day after the election, I created a bonfire and burned all my election material.
It may have been a hasty reaction, but it felt good exorcising my feelings towards an election which was a media-driven charade.
However, I believe it is important to record my thoughts after contesting the Otaki seat as an independent candidate.
Deciding to stand only eight weeks out from the election, with no committee, no funds except my own and not on e-mail, it was a daunting task, yet I managed to poll 886 votes and was one of only three independents (former MP Brian Neeson) to reach the top four.
The figure should have been higher.
Wherever I went, I detected widespread disatisfaction with the political process and many people indicated they were grateful I was standing, because they would not otherwise be bothering to vote this year.
Yet, on the day my support collapsed.
Why? I put it down to media manipulation.
Other journalists consistently described the Otaki election as a two-horse race (between National's deputy leader Roger Sowry and Labour contender Darren Hughes). They never phoned me, an experienced journalist who had covered seven elections, to discuss my impressions.
In fact, I was deemed a loser right from the outset, and blatantly ignored.
Duncan Garner, when interviewing Darren Hughes for a segment on the Holmes Show, asked me if I was definitely contesting the election, and I replied that I was. Yet my name was missing when Paul Holmes broadcast the list, and people noticed the snub.
Throughout election night, Colin James kept referring to wasted votes.
I believe there is no such thing as a wasted vote.
Every vote reflects the choice of the voter, and should be treated with respect - not ridiculed as a wasted vote because it did not influence the outcome. It is condemning candidates who are not ranked by the media as potential winners to oblivion, with pathetic results to reward weeks of hard work and humiliation on the hustings.
So many people said to me that they would never vote for an independent because it would be a wasted vote. Independents always fail.
I could only reply: thanks - with that attitude, you have guaranteed my failure before I have even had a chance to try and prove myself.
I stood as an independent because I am concerned that Parliament has been hijacked by the party system.
I thought long and hard to determine the reasons people seem so disillusioned by the political process and came to the conclusion MMP has encouraged politicians to give their allegiance to the party, because party loyalty is rewarded with high list rankings and a safe seat.
The most influential politicians are all assured seats in Parliament due to their party ranking, and therefore do not need to canvas personal endorsement.
So you have a situation where people like Annette King and Roger Sowry do not need to care about the views of the voter because it makes no difference to their Parliamentary career. They will remain in Parliament, even if the voter no longer supports them because party loyalty offers greater security than electorate accountability.
Armed with this insight, I decided to invest $300 in my quest to test the democratic process.
First stumbling block.
No-one, not even the Electoral Commission could tell me where Otaki's returning office would be. They did agree to post me a nomination paper.
I commenced my campaign, walking around the communities in my electorate, communicating with people and confirming my suspicion that other people are equally fed up with political shenanigans.
Because I cannot access e-mail due to the nature of my work (a writer of controversial subjects), I left messages outside working hours for the Electoral Commission to advise me of the location of the returning office, so that I could lodge my form. They left messages, giving only an e-mail address. No use to me.
After extensive inquiries, someone advised me where he thought the office might be, but four working days before the deadline, it was still empty.
Quite by chance, I happened to notice a removal van outside this site as I was passing one day, and they were still unpacking the first desk as I delivered my form - with only three working days to spare.
Of more concern, is the assumption that all candidates are on e-mail, and that elections are increasingly geared towards these people. They are granted privileges denied other candidates, and I was aghast to hear that in future all nominations may be handled by Wellington, due to the ease of e-mail.
Election results for candidates were transmitted via e-mail, and there were no provisions to notify others of the outcome.
As an independent though, I had other obstacles to overcome, with the whole election process geared towards party candidates.
At each candidates' meeting, I made it quite clear during my preliminary speech that on issues of importance, I was prepared to represent the views of the electorate.
When the inevitable questions were asked: what is your party's policy on whatever, I floundered.
I could not consult a document on party policy, nor were my policies enlarged upon by taxpayer-funded advertising or coverage of the leaders' comments.
I left each meeting feeling deflated, because there was insight I could contribute but there was rarely the forum to do so effectively.
It was interesting to note, that of the ten candidates, seven campaigned solely for the party vote, leaving only three of us vying for the electorate mandate.
People told me that they wanted to vote strategically, and although I sensed people were supportive of my stance, I knew that I was fighting a fallacy that there were only two choices worthy of any consideration in this electorate.
The irony is, that by picking one or the other, they wasted their vote, because both of them entered Parliament on the party list anyway.
By voting for an independent, they could have sent three people to Parliament, including one they could trust to represent the electorate and fight local issues, such as the retention of Horowhenua Hospital.
I am surprised political commentators and the Electoral Commission continue to stress that only the party vote is important, on the basis it determines the proportion of party representation in Parliament.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
I didn't realise until fairly recently that parties get the share of seats left over once the independent seats have been allocated.
Imagine therefore, a Parliament made up of forty or even as many as sixty-nine seats held by independent electorate representatives, leaving only eighty or in the worst case scenario fifty-one seats to be shared between the party politicians.
Who would hold the balance of power then?
And the people would get what they want: political representation and accountability.
This election is over.
Some candidates are celebrating; some are not.
As for me, I feel liberated.
I know now there is seething discontent disguised as apathy within the community, and the longer it features, the more painful it will be when it finally erupts.
When that happens, my conscience will be clear.
I can still hold onto the clarity of my vision, and for me, that's all that counts.