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Many Christchurch local election candidates are running as “non-political” candidates, but critics say that means voters do not know what they are getting.

University of Canterbury politic science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward said the trend toward “no party politics” branding was unhelpful to voters and masked real political groupings within the council.

“The trouble is, because people aren’t familiar with the candidates and they’re not standing for familiar parties, there’s actually no way to know who those independents are and what they’re going to do when they’re elected,” she said.

In the 2013 Christchurch elections, none of the mayoral candidates is running under a party flag. Among those running for council, two of the largest running groups, Independent Citizens and City First, have explicitly stated they are “politics free” or “no party politics”. People’s Choice is the only group running with openly stated political affiliations (to Labour and the Greens).

But Hayward said the Independent Citizens and City First had been traditionally right-leaning, while 2021, which is running this year as People’s Choice, leaned to Labour or Green party values.

Labour party member Yani Johansen, who is running as part of People’s Choice, said the running groups were “really political groupings”.

“Most are aligned to political parties in some way or another, but through my party membership I choose to be up-front about that.”

Johansen said that voters deserved to know what the political ethos of their candidates was.

“The issue with independents is you don’t know what they stand for,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Paul Lonsdale described himself as “absolutely apolitical”.

“I don’t think politics has any place in the local body,” he said. “Petty politics should be kept right out of it. I think that’s been part of the problem these past years, is that we’ve had politics involved.”

Lonsdale said one of the key people advising him, and who will fund his campaign, is Roger Bridge, a member of the National Party board of directors and chairman of National Canterbury-Westland, but that did not connect him to the National Party.

His relationship with Bridge was a result of business, not politics, he said.

Aaron Keown, who is standing as part of the City First group and who ran for Act in 2011, said he was not aligned to any “party politics” and City First was “a running group, but not a party” — it did not have collective policies and did not vote as a block.

Mayoral candidate and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said she was not running as a Labour-endorsed candidate for mayor.

She said running as a Labour candidate “would be a negative” because it would give the impression of bias toward other Labour candidates around the table.

“We can only have one team around the council table.”

Dalziel will remain a Labour member, however, and said her association with Labour values meant voters knew her position and what she stood for. She said it was “incredibly unhelpful” for candidates not to state their political stance.

“It’s become a popular thing to say, ‘Oh I have no politics, I won’t vote along party lines, I’ll just vote as myself.’ Well, what will you vote for? It’s very difficult for the public to know.”

Hayward said the trend toward local candidates distancing themselves from party politics made voting particularly difficult for students, who were often more transient and had less background knowledge on candidates.

“Local government is already hard to engage with. It’s difficult to find information about who to vote for. This odd idea that you shouldn’t be engaged in political parties to contest local elections makes it even harder to engage.”

She said that while it would be helpful to have more party affiliations, “political parties don’t want to be affiliated because they don’t want to have by-elections on their performance nationally”.

University of Canterbury political science student Caleb Anderson said it was “hypocritical and off-putting” if candidates masked their political allegiances.

“If I’m going to vote for someone I want to know what they stand for and what kind of policies they’re likely to enact if they’re elected.”

Anderson said that when students didn’t know what candidates stood for, it made them less likely to vote.

Of 20 students surveyed at a University of Canterbury cafe, just three thought they would vote in the local body elections, and only one knew whom they would vote for. None could state the policies or positions specific to any one of the candidates.

_Tess McClure