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October 16, 2001
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Indian woman wins third term as Dunedin mayor

Paritosh Parasher in Sydney

A New Zealander of Indian origin has been re-elected mayor of Dunedin for a third term.

Of all the 74 mayoral elections held in New Zealand last week, Punjab-bred Sukhi Turner's win over her rival Richard Walls is being considered one of the most convincing.

Expectations of the re-election of Sukhi, married to legendary former New Zealand cricket captain Glenn Turner, were so high that a number of her potential opponents withdrew their election papers as soon as she announced her intention to seek a third term.

Sukhi TurnerThe rush to exit the mayoral race left seven in the field, but only two, including Turner, were considered serious contenders.

According to local media reports, Dunedinites too considered the re-election of their feisty mayor a foregone conclusion and were more interested in other mayoral elections than in their own city.

Turner, mother of two children, was first elected a councillor of Dunedin in 1992. Her first election as mayor of the city came three years later and again in 1998.

Over the years, Dunedin has come to respect its mayor for a number of reasons. She is perhaps the only politician in New Zealand who has, in spite of her radical views and a dedicated following, chosen the local platform to express her views.

In the past, she has been at the forefront of a number of campaigns that range from human rights to environmental issues affecting not just Dunedin but the whole nation.

"It's been pretty low-key. Most people are quite happy with the status quo. The city's in good heart," she told reporters before her re-election.

What makes people like the Dunedin mayor is probably Turner's emphatic views for the last three decades.

This political science post-graduate from Ludhiana in Punjab had raised a big noise when the New Zealand government expressed some reluctance to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, spiritual head of the Tibetan people, last year.

She had also amused New Zealanders a great deal by recently asking for a ban on national political leaders going overseas as the "politicians come back wanting New Zealand to have what everybody else has".

"It's the small man's syndrome," Turner had said at a meeting of environmentalists in Auckland University. "They feel insecure about being leaders of wee New Zealand."

For some time Turner has also been opposing the basic idea behind the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation. She has gone to the extent of calling APEC a scam and challenged the notion that bigger is always better, arguing that local economies are special and local governments should invest in them.

It could have been her high profile that led Nelson Mayor Paul Matheson to personally apologise to her turbaned brother-in-law after he was insulted in a bar in Nelson town in a hate attack. Matheson has described the incident involving Maninderjit Singh Sandhu, a Queenstown-based Sikh restaurateur, as "appalling".

Mayor Turner, who has run small businesses along with Indian cookery classes in Dunedin, also represents the metropolitan sector group at The Local Government New Zealand Council. She is also a member of various community organisations and the Green Party of Aoteaora, the native Maori name for New Zealand.

Indo-Asian News Service

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