Mar 1, 2011

Briefly: The earthquake and Maori Politics (updated)

It still seems a little crass to be discussing the political ramifications of the Chch earthquake but ultimately we cannot lose sight of something as significant as politics. In this post I want to briefly discuss the effect the earthquake will have on Maori politics, specifically Rahui Katene and the passage of the MCA bill.

For Maori politics the big question is will Rahui Katene retain her seat as a result of the earthquake. Up until now I have been predicting that Rahui will almost certainly lose her seat. But of course in light of recent events this is now uncertain. To win Te Tai Tonga you need to win Chch and Wellington. Wellington is still anyone’s game but Chch may now swing behind Rahui. From what I hear Rahui is doing a good job moving around the community reassuring and supporting Maori affected by the earthquake. By all accounts The Maori Party and Ngai Tahu leaders are also doing a good job setting up Marae to support displaced whanau. As Rahui moves around the Maori community the people get to see her human side. A compassionate and supportive politician. People do not see the Rahui who supports the MCA bill or the Rahui who voted for an increase in GST. They see someone who is forming a very strong and very personal relationship with them. People are responsive to politicians who act in a human capacity as opposed to a political capacity.

The Maori Party, and by extension Rahui, are, in a political sense, managing the situation very well. No showmanship, no criticism, just a quiet flaxroot effort. One could assume that I am saying the Maori Party and Rahui are using the situation for political gain. I am not. Ultimately they just want to help. But the way in which they are helping is politically beneficial.

Some commentators have suggested that the MCA bill may be put on hold or scrapped altogether. I think this is a little naïve. The Maori Party will not allow the MCA bill to fall off the legislative agenda. If universal opposition and the threat of a second hikoi are not enough to deter the party then an earthquake and the resulting political sensitivities probably won’t either. The country’s attention will be focussed almost exclusively on Chch for the next month at the least. The Nat’s would love the opportunity to slip the bill through while the public consciousness is directed towards bigger issues. The MCA bill was electorally damaging yet a political necessity, therefore the Nats will welcome the opportunity to placate their support partner and limit electoral damage in the process.

In conclusion the earthquake may mean Rahui Katene will retain Te Tai Tonga and the MCA bill will proceed. This means, in my opinion, that The Maori Party will come out of the election having retained all their seats (excluding Te Tai Tokerau of course).

*As an aside, I do not share the surprisingly common sentiment that the earthquake will ensure the government is re-elected, perhaps with a majority. My reading of the situation in the months following the initial quake was that many people in Chch were not satisfied with the government’s response. Why would they do any better this time around? Everything to come out of the government’s mouth has been uninspiring.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the quake will damage the momentum Winston Peters is, well was, generating. I don’t think the country has the stomach for Winston at the moment. Even in the coming months the Nats can easily label Winnie a distraction and an impediment to progress in Chch. A man stuck moaning about yesterdays issues. Winston needs to refocus. The old issues of immigration, separatism and the like may lack the potency they once possessed. However, in the wake of the quake nationalism may prove to be a key issue. I can imagine calls for contracts to be awarded to local businesses as opposed to some cheap overseas corporate going down well. One thing is for sure, Winston’s chances of re-election have plummeted.    

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