Apr 26, 2011

The battle for the Maori seats

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a beer with Lew from Kiwipolitico. Lew is one of my favourite bloggers and is perhaps the most astute political commentator in New Zealand. He is also one of the best commentators when it comes to Maori political issues - or Maori issues in general actually. When we were talking he mentioned that there are two elections happening this year. The main election battle between Labour and National and an election battle for the Maori seats. This is a fairly significant observation in my opinion.

Even under MMP the election is, for the most part, a battle between the two, for lack of a better term, material parties – Labour and National. We may not have an authentic two party system, but we do have a de facto two party system where political discourse occurs on the terms of the two main parties. Other parties are often a secondary concern and rarely penetrate the body politic. This trend will probably continue as New Zealand moves towards presidential style elections.

The other election is, as said, a battle for the Maori seats. A battle for the right to represent Maori. The Maori Party claims, or at least claimed, to represent Maori, however the party never really secured an undisputed mandate to do so. The Maori Party MP’s entered Parliament representing their respective constituents rather than Maori as a whole. The same is true of Parekura Horomia and Nanaia Mahuta. The Maori electorate MP’s wins did not symbolise an endorsement of the Maori Party or Labour Party. Their wins were a personal endorsement and a reflection of their own standing in their respective electorates.

The battle will feature three actors. The Labour Party, the Maori Party and the Mana Party. Three serious contenders. The Labour Party is just looking to secure a few extra seats, but the Maori Party and the Mana Party are seeking a mandate. A secure grip on the Maori seats and the right to say we have the mana to speak on behalf of Maori. The Maori Party desperately wants the mana to act unequivocally for Maori. This was the party’s goal from its genesis. The problem for the Maori Party is that Hone Harawira wants the same and he is making a legitimate claim. Hone realises the Maori Party is compromised and he is having no trouble convincing Maori that that is the case. On the other hand the Labour Party is looking to claim what is, historically speaking, theirs by right.

In my opinion neither Hone nor the Maori Party will secure a mandate. The Labour Party will not either. The political situation is too messy, it is unclear where everyone stands. Hone has yet to cultivate a clear claim as to why he should receive the mana to represent Maori. The Maori Party has given no reason why Maori should trust them again and Labour is yet to repent for the FSA 2004 betrayal. Tangible political issues are dominating Maori thinking as well. Maori are struggling through a violent increase in living costs and a brutal government agenda, for example ACC cuts and assaults on workers rights. There is little room for symbolic questions at the moment.

But is it even possible to represent all Maori? Probably not. Maori often act in unison and are united on many issues, especially questions of tino rangatiratanga. However, there will always be diversity of opinion. Maori may agree on an outcome, but there will be one thousand different ideas on how to get there. Maori may seem integrated, especially in terms of values, but there will always be subtle differences and small nuances that separate different iwi, hapu and even whanau.

I do think it is possible to hold the mana to act on behalf of Maori though. I do not mean the mana to act as a unilateral decision maker, but the mana to act as a symbolic leader, a person(s) who can unite Maori on certain issues and drive ideas among Maori.         

The battle for the Maori seats is, comparatively speaking, attracting little attention. This is surprising considering the results in the Maori seats will almost certainly determine who forms the next government. If the Maori Party is destroyed the National Party will lose their only stable coalition partner, therefore depriving them of another term in government (assuming Rodney Hide is toast in Epsom and an outright majority is not obtained). The Mana Party will undoubtedly fill the void and a centre left government would be almost guaranteed.

If I were to pick a representative of all Maori, I would pick Hone Harawira. Not because he reflects most Maori, but because he takes his job as a representative seriously. He remembers that his mana is derived from the people and the people can take it back. He speaks passionately and honestly. There is no pretending, nothing fake or forced, Hone speaks for Maori. The others speak, first and foremost, for themselves. They put electoral considerations ahead of what is perhaps right. Been a hopeless idealist, I like the thought of someone with a bit of honesty.


  1. I can think of a few prominent Maori outside Parliament who could represent all Maori well. The issue is they will never be in a position where they are able to. This person would need to put the interests of Iwi closest to them in their electorate behind those of Maori overall. The person would need to be conciliatory and prepared to favour no group over another. I don't think Maori would be prepared to have such a person as their electorate MP because they would not represent them specifically. Such a person would need to be the party leader of a Maori party without winning an electorate seat which I see as being difficult. It probably also means they need to get 5% of the vote.

  2. I largely agree. It doesn't necessarily mean they need to breach the 5% mark. A year or two ago I would have said Pita Sharples had the potential to represent all Maori. I'm glad I didn't make that call publicly - he clearly doesn't have what it takes.

  3. "he Mana Party will undoubtedly fill the void and a centre left government would be almost guaranteed."

    Are you sure? Given Hone Harawira's stated belief that Phil Goff should be shot it's hard to see him reaching an agreement with Labour.

    Similarly to Rob I'm not sure that Parliament is the best place for a symbolic leader of all Maori to situate themselves. Parliament is not really a good place for symbolism - it's where laws, not gestures, are made.

  4. Yes, I am sure. Hone will not condemn him and his party to the crossbenches. Hone is prone to gratuitous statements. His attack on Goff was nothing more than an insult - he was not stating a bottom line.

    Politics is not solely concerned with law making. Politics is as much about symbolism, or more accurately perception, as it is about the hard stuff like legislating. In my opinion, Parliament is the ultimate medium for symbolism.

  5. Hone can't play as a team member. He acts better as a loose cannon. I can't see him working hand in hand with any other party. It is highly possible that he won't win back his seat if the Maori Party stands against him. If that happens then I think Kelvin Davis will win.

  6. and therein lies the issue for Maori...being lead by the consensus. An amalgam of people the majority of which struggle to see beyond their next pay chq or S14 game. My half caste kids demand someone who could careless what the that particular populous needs and focus on more aspirational goals that will see us playing in the game not spectating from the stands. A leader that places as much importance on my kids pakeha heritage as much as their Maori not a leader that only chooses to recognise their Maori line. One that is not afraid to dream and sell that dream then try and mobilise their community to follow them.

  7. I AM glad that you admit to not having any knowledge about most things --

    it shows there are two-three separate voices in your writings -

    it also shows when you are writing -
    the contrast is black and white

    whakahihi - it has gone to your silly head

    polly abraham - aotea harbour

  8. "The Mana Party will undoubtedly fill the void and a centre left government would be almost guaranteed."

    Doubt that - because the Maori Party wont be destroyed. If it loses MPs it wont be to the Mana Party it`ll be to Labour. In order for Hone to be in Govt, he'd probably have to be a minister. Can you imagine that - he'd piss everybody off and get fired like Winston.

  9. True, the Maori Party will not be destroyed immediately, rather it will suffer a slow death. One of the problems the Maori Party is facing is succession. There is no obvious successor, Te Ururoa is compromised and may not return to Parliament, Tariana and Pita will not live forever, Rahui is gone burgers and I cannot see any new MP's ready to step in. The party doesn't even have a youth wing which is weird. There is no one coming through the party and there are very few people, I imagine, who are willing to come in from the outside.

    If the Maori Party do lose MP's, and I think they certainly will, they will lose Te Tai Tonga to Labour and Waiariki to the Mana Party. Tamaki Makaurau will probably go Labour's way. However, I believe if a third candidate does not stand then Pita will retain that seat.

    Re Hone in government. I accept the view that he is a wee bit uncontrollable. But he is not a child and I think he realises that many Maori expect him to pull his head in. Over the past few months he has acted like a statesman, not a big mouth racist. He is delivering careful soundbites, retracting from some of the harsher rhetoric and generally conducting himself well.

    Hone's biggest problem is that he is easily led and he is not surrounded by people with contrasting views or people who are willing to tell him when he is acting up or going in the wrong direction.

  10. I totally concur Morgan re your last paragraph.

    "Hone's biggest problem is that he is easily led and he is not surrounded by people with contrasting views or people who are willing to tell him when he is acting up or going in the wrong direction."

    A good leader is one prepared to traverse the hard routes others fear to take. So what is fear in this particular context? The routes others fear to take will be those routes that may see some discomfort to its passengers, fear of not knowing the destination, fear of what we dont know. These you might say are normal human thoughts but when contrasted against the status quo outcome for traversing routes and pathways we have always done which delivers more of the same begs the question "why not?" Why not try a different route. For Hone why not look to pioneer a constitution to replace the Treaty? The future of our country demands that the Treaty have the spotlight on it. For crying out loud the country certainly does not need another Maori party pushing separatist policy and agenda's. The radical improvement of Maori health, employment and wellbeing is going to require a radical change in how Maori choose to walk forward and embrace the future. You are right in that Hone does not need to be surrounded by people that hang onto every vestige of a people debased and take solace in pontificating their views. No Hone needs to be surrounded by people who share his vision his outcome but have different pathways to get there. The challenge for him in choosing his people is ....is he prepared to be unpopular to his core base to achieve his (and actually theirs too) outcomes and therefor select people who can challenge him.



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