The Kiwi-Indian community could be a significant departure and a welcome oasis within an otherwise barren landscape of ‘migrant non-voting’ in this country.
Voting and participating in the electoral process is not considered as one of the best value that ethnic Asian migrant communities bring to New Zealand.
Often migrant non-voting and lack of participation in the electoral process is considered as a major disservice to the nation, to an extent argued as adversely impacting on social cohesion and New Zealand’s democratic legitimacy.
A major study of New Zealand’s electoral laws released in 2015, titled Superdiversity, Democracy and Electoral Laws, conducted by public law specialist and Chair of the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business Mai Chen and funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation had put forward the point.
Since then this perception has been reiterated through many other reports and in mainstream media, to an extent reinforcing the perception within the larger mainstream society, and rightly though, that Asian ethnic migrants are serial non-voters.
However, the Kiwi-Indian community could very well stand-out from this perception around the inability of ethnic migrants to participate in the political process.
In the absence of any scientific study covering in particular Kiwi-Indian community, The Indian Weekender took upon itself to reach out to the community and know firsthand their thoughts on the importance of voting.
From Top Left- Counterclockwise: Zameer Khan, Md Abid, Pradeep & Pranjali (IWK Picture)
The responses were largely in tune with the expectations of many key stakeholders within the community where the importance of voting is acknowledged.
“Voting is very important, and I had never missed a single chance of voting in the last 12 years of being in this country,” said Mohammad Yusuf a resident of Roskill to The Indian Weekender.
“We need to have a say in what’s happening in the government and voting is the only way to ensure that,” Jasdeep Sandhu a shopper in a local supermarket in Mt Roskill told The Indian Weekender.
“I have been in the country for last ten years and have voted ever since I became eligible to vote.
“This will be my third election,” Mr Sandhu said.
It is important to note that the list of respondents The Indian Weekender spoke with was minuscule and not exhaustive, and is not claiming to represent entire community’s opinion.
However, it is broadly reflective of Indian community’s overall demography in New Zealand.
For many, an acknowledgement of the importance of voting was not merely for academic reasons; rather it was backed by some passionate views about what they believed were the main issues in this election.
“Law and order and security of small businesses in our community are an important issue for me,” Mr Sandhu said.
From Top Left- Counterclockwise: Chandu Patel, Sreemari, Vishal, Michelle (IWK Picture)
“Policies around immigration and housing are important in this election,” Md Yusuf said.
To a large extent, there are two main reasons for this departure in Kiwi-Indian community’s behaviour towards voting and the electoral process.
Firstly, the Kiwi-Indian community does not have a baggage of language barrier that affects many of the other fellow Asian ethnic migrants and hampers their ability to vote and participate in the electoral process of the country.
Secondly, a majority of members in the community who have emigrated directly from India bring along with them an intense experience of participation in the electoral process.
4. Top Left- Counterclockwise: Neha, Venkat Raman, Jasdeep Sandhu, Jay Krishna (IWK Picture)
Experts largely agree on the fact that Indian democracy and electoral process, despite many challenges are able to leave an intense and often exhilarating experience on everyone in the country, including travellers and tourists who are in the country at the time of elections.
For someone to have resided in India, sometimes elections could be too frequent and intense to create awareness towards the importance of voting.
So to start with, the Kiwi-Indian community have a familiarity and interest in the election process, which if not more, then is certainly not less, than that of many other communities in New Zealand.
Added to this, the convenience of voting offered to any prospective voters offered in this country is also a major pull for many with slightest desire to participate in the political process to have their say counted.
From Top Left- Counterclockwise: Yusuf, Satender, Mahendra Dixit, Anna (IWK Picture)
For many, the opportunity of advance voting available for two weeks before Election Day, along with the ease of voting process is an added precipitant in driving them towards exercising their civic responsibility of voting.
According to 2013 census, Kiwi-Indian community is around 5.5 per cent of the total population in New Zealand.
The total Asian population in the country is around 12 per cent.