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Friday, 24 May 2019 12:59 am

How Maori have gained real electoral power – and what it means

Nov 5th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, Features

Will Maori be the king/queen-makers after Saturday night’s election? The influence of the Maori Party has grown significantly since its formation in 2004, as HINANO ANDREWS explores in this analysis:

The latest Marae DigiPoll has The Maori Party tipped to win all of the seven Maori seats in this weekend’s election.

From Te Tai Tokerau to Te Tai Tonga, the results clearly indicated the strength of the Maori Party across New Zealand.

It is only the second election for the party and relatively young compared to its counterparts, New Zealand First, Labour and National, the Maori Party has been a key player in Parliament since its birth in 2004.

The party formed around junior Minister Tariana Turia’s decision to leave the Labour party after the Foreshore and Seabed Bill was mooted by Cabinet. She resigned in April, won a subsequent by-election and then formed the Maori Party with academic Dr Pita Sharples in July.

In the 2005 election, the Maori Party won 2.2% of the vote, contesting all seven Maori seats and eventually winning four.

Tariana Turia won Te Tai Hauauru, Pita Sharples Tamaki-Makaurau, Hone Harawira  Te Tai Tokerau, and Te Ururoa Flavell won Waiariki.

In this year’s election, the Maori Party is aiming to claim all seven seats, and if the Marae DigiPoll is any indication, it may well decide who forms the new Government.

Both main party leaders know that if the election comes down to the wire on Saturday, they will need to form a coalition government with the Maori party to claim power.

In the weeks following the 2005 election, the Maori Party held a series of hui to decide which party to support.

At Hongoeka Marae earlier this year, Tariana Turia confirmed the party would repeat the nationwide hui to listen to the concerns of constituents before making a decision about which side of the fence they will be on, if they side with any party at all.

A Maori Television poll on Native Affairs programme this week showed 82% preferred the party going with Labour.

Although some leaders indicated a preference for Labour during the 2005 post election hui, Tariana Turia met privately with Helen Clark to rule out a formal coalition with Labour.

Being in Opposition in the last term has given the Maori Party greater independence, and a result of that has meant they have serious clout at the bargaining table.

One of their greatest weapons has been their unwillingness to be compromised on values. It was this stubbornness that led to the party being formed.

Their priorities are education, kaitiakitanga (guardianship), maintaining and promoting Pacific and Maori culture, supporting Maori business, honouring the Treaty, as well as environmental issues and a proposal to remove GST on food.

Empowerment and the restoration of mana to Maori are key aspirations for the Maori Party, and these are ideals that are not exclusive to Maori.

Tariana Turia believes all New Zealanders will benefit from the empowerment of Maori.

In the last election, of the people on the Maori Roll who voted, 3.3% of those votes were given to the Maori Party.

Party candidates recognise the importance of the Maori vote.

Hauraki-Waikato candidate Angeline Greensill is featured on a YouTube video singing the words “Get on the roll and vote”.

Like anyone voting, a vote should not be taken for granted. Only 70 years ago, Maori had to vote verbally or by show of hand. Only Europeans had the luxury of casting votes in a private ballot.

Even being on the Maori electrol roll today has changed. Between 1893 and 1975, those of more than half Maori descent were not allowed to vote in a European electorate, while those of less than half Maori descent were only able to vote in a European electorate.

But the Maori vote and Maori Party are significant not just because of the bargaining power it allows them or because of historical significance.

The Maori vote and the Maori party signified that Maori were no longer content to be placated with hand-outs from the Labour Party or assimilated into an almost non-existence by the National Party.

Maori voters – some statistics

Enrolled on the Maori roll: 2004 – 208,003; 2008 – 226,532 (up 16%).

Voters: Last election (2005) 67% of those on the Maori roll cast their votes. Some 48,263 voted for the Maori Party.

Voter behaviour: People voting for the Maori Party are the least likely voters to split their vote: 84.7% of those who voted for the Maori Party also voted for the party’s candidate. This election, the party is campaigning on a “two ticks” platform.

Historical background

New Zealand’s electoral system is unique because of the Maori seats, although the nature of their origin was to minimise the political voice of Maori in Parliament, the seats themselves represent the ever-evolving relationship between New Zealand and Maori.
One of the main issues for the Maori Party in this election has been the entrenchment of the Maori seats. Entrenching the seats mean that they will be safe from the whim of a simple majority in Parliament (with a 75% majority needed to remove them).

There have been four Parliamentary seats reserved for Maori since 1867, but with the introduction of MMP in 1993 the rules regarding the Maori seats changed and the number of seats is now “floating”.

This means that the number of seats relates to the number of Maori in New Zealand, and in the last two elections the Electoral Commission defined seven seats across the country. The 2008 election also has seven.

However, these seats were not provided out of a sense of high-mindedness. The New Zealand Parliament website says the Maori seats “stumbled into being as simply a useful way of rewarding Maori loyalists, placating the Maori rebels and assuring Britain that the colonists were looking after the Maori people”.

The current Labour Government supports the Maori Party’s wish for the seats to be entrenched in law, but the National Party does not.

Under a National Government, the Maori seats would be removed by 2014, coinciding with the year that they plan on closing all Treaty negotiations.

If the seats are to be abolished, it is a decision that should be made by Maori, the seats are too important to be used as campaigning tools by larger parties.

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