Council Elections: Community service or Popularity contest?

The Victorian Government announced that the Council elections would go ahead on Saturday, 24 October 2020 and postal votes will be used. This will be the first-time postal voting has been used across all Victorian councils. The Municipal Association of Victoria says a survey found that most councillors and chief executives who responded supported deferring the October elections until 2021. It appears that the large number of candidates already taking a plunge makes us think that perhaps deferring will be the right choice in the current situation.

The previous Council elections saw a large number of candidates contesting. While this may be good for democracy, it also begs the question about the intent of candidates taking the plunge in high numbers. The term dummy candidates are being floated heavily with the accusations of channelling votes of those candidates through preferences to others. This year council elections are most likely set to see a high number of candidates, looking at the number of candidates making announcement already, it probably might even reach record numbers. Most common allegations against some candidates is that they are contesting only for popularity in their community or to build their profile which may help boost their businesses. If this is true, then there should be a serious overhaul of the council election nominations process. I strongly believe each council candidate should get the nomination signed from at least 50 voters of their ward from which they are contesting. This will demonstrate the commitment of the candidate and also will qualify the candidate, whether they have enough community support or not.

Racial discrimination is also rife in social media, we are already seeing Indian origin candidates being targeted unfairly and are often generalised and portrayed wrongly. They are regularly taken potshots at in various Facebook groups. Recently a Sikh gentleman’s picture was posted along with derogatory comments mocking him and was shared around as a meme. After a community outcry and complaints to the Group admin, the post and picture was removed from the group. Cyberbullying and trolling have become prevalent in social media groups in the name of fun and advocacy for council elections. Also, some candidates or would-be candidates are being targeted by fake profiles with discriminating or false accusations just to show them in a bad light. The general mood in the community is that candidates from the multicultural background are heavily criticised, mocked and intimidated and they are not getting a fair go. These are very concerning thoughts as they are dividing the community. People have to realise that as a community we need each other, and elections are a democratic process. We vote (should) for the candidate who we think is best for the community.

Candidates too have to take responsibility. They need to understand being a Councillor is more of a community service than a prestige or profile boost. They should have an understanding of why and what they are standing for. Some candidates are not even sure about what a councillor’s role is and what they can advocate for. They have policies so steep that even the Australian Prime Minister won’t be able to fulfill let alone a councillor. Being a Councillor takes dedication towards community work and passion to serve rather than their ego being served. Council elections are not a popularity contest and the community needs champions not disappointments.

By Karthik Arasu
Karthik is a social and political activist, who has been involved with various initiatives for the multicultural community in Australia. He is currently the President of “Australia India Sports Council”.

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