#LE19: Purdah… Pardon?

26 March 2019 - by Claire Flynn

Today marks the commencement of purdah, ahead of the local government elections on 2 May. Candidates will contest 462 seats across Northern Ireland’s eleven local councils.

Purdah, which means 'curtain' in Hindi, is the period between the announcement of an election and the date on which that election is held, with restrictions on communications activity.

Unlike the Assembly, which dissolves in the period before an election, the ordinary functions of councils continue with no statutory restriction on decision making, meetings or political debate.

During purdah, however, local authorities are advised to give consideration to matters that are discussed or brought-forward, particularly if these are matters politically sensitive.

Due to heightened scrutiny, council officers will also be on high alert to how council work might be perceived to be seeking to influence public opinion in an electoral area or promote a candidate or group of candidates. This practice will also extend to government departments and the public communications made by civil servants.

We can also expect candidates to be joined on the election trail by party colleagues including MLAs and MPs, therefore reducing the opportunity for normal political engagement.

What does purdah mean for your organisation?

Election time often brings a strong desire to mobilise citizens and encourage voter participation. That said, there are also a number of things for organisations to keep in mind:

  • Purdah presents an opportunity to inform candidates of issues, elevating these on the political parties’ agendas; 

  • While organisations can still promote their views and ideas in publicity material, they are prohibited from endorsing the policies of a political party or a particular candidate;

  • During purdah, refer to councillors as 'candidates';

  • Encourage staff and/or volunteers, board members and users to vote. However, don’t endorse, support or oppose any candidate or political party, or instruct employees to cast their votes for specific parties or individuals.