May 28, 2013

Te Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election will affirm that Māori democracy is strong, diverse and dynamic

E tipu, e rea, 
Mo ngā rā o te ao; 
Ko to ringa ki ngā rākau a te Pāhekā,
Hei ara mō tō tinana.
Ko tō ngākau ki ngā taonga a o tipuna Māori,
Hei tikitiki mō tō māhunga.
A, ko tō wairua ki tō Atua, 
Nāna nei ngā mea katoa. 
Tā Apirana Ngāta, Mema Pāremata mō Eastern Māori 1905 - 1943

This Te Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election has basically only just begun, with the all the contesting parties  having had their candidates selected by this Monday. But already the massive and highly visible involvement and engagement in the democratic process has been impressive. It shows that democracy is thriving in Te Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, and that is somewhat reflective of the Māori seats across the country. It is clear that whānau are taking their democratic choices seriously, more seriously than in many general seats. They are getting behind their whānau and their candidates and supporting them in what are daunting roles. The high calibre of all the selected candidates is a testament to the talent of the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti.

The massive engagement in the political process has been clear in many iconic images of the last week. Probably the best example of this was the huge Labour Party selection hui in Taradale. Hundreds attended. In recent years most parties have had declines in membership, so to see the enthusiastic support at the hui for their candidates is fantastic. It is so good that Meka Whaitiri got the job, she will be a great candidate for Labour. But what the media, especially the mainstream media, must realize is that there have been equally impressive starts to the campaigns of all the other parties that are contesting the by-election.

Some of these issues in this post have been raised by Morgan at The Daily Blog and others but I wish to share with you my views on this whole process.

The Māori Party announced their candidate, Na Rongowhakaata Raihania early and got on the campaign trail with him almost immediately. This is just what they needed, a strong display of unity at the start of the campaign. And it's genuine; they are fighting for their voice to be heard in the political spectrum. I am against many of their votes and actions, but we should credit them with playing an important role for Māori in Government. The National Government stirs a lot of anger among our people including myself, but I wouldn't deny the Māori Party's unique position and genuine representation.

The Mana Party has also had a strong start to their campaign. I'm of the view that Te Hamua Nikora is a star candidate. I have heard him in a few radio interviews over the past few days and seen him on TV; he has done well. He has been strong in his affirmation of seriousness and genuine concern for his people of Te Tai Rāwhiti. He has experienced hardship, success and been an inspiration to many young people. His comedy and entertainment only add to his skills, though his style may put off a few, he is an ideal candidate for Mana. I think that Mana and the Greens in particular will get a lot of young people inspired to enroll and vote. The relative freshness and youth of theses parties and their support bases to that of Labour is pretty stark. The photos and messages of support for Te Hamua seem to be coming in from across the country and from Australia are heartwarming. These sorts of issues should be canvassed more in the media, so that we don't all get endlessly told the line that Labour's got it in the bag. It is perfectly fine to say that they begin as front runners, but I really don't think that it's true that the by-election was won in Labour's selection meeting.

And of course the Greens have made a brilliant move in selecting Marama Davidson as their candidate for the seat, which this post goes into more detail about. She is another star candidate. It has pleasantly surprised many, and is a reflection of the growing support for the Greens among Māori. Marama will be able to use the big increase in Māori support for the Greens at the last election as a base to launch off and make even more significant gains. As a male feminist, I see the Greens as being a party that fully embraces and supports mana wāhine. Meitiria Turei as co-leader is the best example of this but other examples include the wahine toa Green MPs both Māori and Pākehā like Denise Roche, Catherine Delahunty, Jan Logie and Mojo Mathers. The Greens have more women than men in Parliament, 8/14, and they have been the strongest advocates of women's rights in Parliament. The entrance of Marama Davidson on to the Green political landscape significantly adds to this factor. The huge enthusiasm from within the Green Party and from Māori activists and voters for her candidacy will act as a platform for the rise of the Greens in Māori seats across the country.

The popular opinion among commentators and the media is that Labour is certainly going to win it and then it becomes a battle for second place. In my mind the high calibre of all the candidates proves otherwise. The fresh and widespread involvement in all parties proves otherwise. The deep felt views about issues such as oil drilling, child poverty and Te Tiriti issues will prove otherwise.

The Māori Option will also be an important factor. I know that many Labour and Green supporters are on the general role, so highlighting the option of moving over to the Māori role will be crucial for their campaigns. I acknowledge that money and party infrastructure is also always important, but the level of commitment from all parties that has so far been displayed will be continued on with during the campaign. This by-election comes at a seminal moment in Māori politics, the choices are all unique and there is strong support for all parties.

I may well be proved wrong on election day, but in my mind this Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election will affirm that Māori democracy is strong, diverse and dynamic. This campaign has the potential to inspire and engage, it has already done so. Marama Davidson, Meka Whaitiri and Te Hamua Nikora all stand a chance of winning this campaign and taking up the seat as representatives of their people. Even Na  Raihania stands an outside chance, despite the apparent decline of his party. I think the vote will be very split, and that the best candidate will come out on top. The result will give good momentum to the winning party for the Māori seats in the 2014 general elections, especially if they are one of the smaller parties.

At the end of the day, every enrolled Ikaroa-Rāwhiti voter will get to exercise their democratic rights in  the voting booths of their communities. They will be able to decide for themselves, after the hoardings and facebook banners go down, who best represents their convictions, their dreams and their aspirations for their whānau. I hope that they look beyond the history of voting in their whānau to ascertain for themselves who will be their best māngai in our House of Representatives in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara.

It is often taken for granted that we even have this most basic of rights, but we must always remember that in many parts of the world indigenous peoples can only dream of the robust, dynamic and democratic nature of our Māori politics in post colonial New Zealand society.

Post by Jack Tautokai McDonald


  1. Hi Jack.I agree with what you say,a very close race based on the calibre of candidates and that mainstream have been slow to report that fact.I'm interested in a couple of things:do you think that (and I don't buy into this)that the fact that Meka is a lesbian will play a role with voters?do you think that her brother played a role in her selection and that it was such a tight race, may effect her chances?

  2. I think Labour voters vote Labour generally, Parekura was the exception. She was the weaker candidate up against Shane Taurima and that could cost them a few votes, but nothing too significant.

    Meka's sexuality could dissuade a few weirdly conservative voters, but when the only alternatives are further left... no hea i haere koutou?

    1. Don't you think it's interesting that Meka hasn't spoken about her sexuality? I don't have anything against her. But surely voters deserve to know as much as possible about the candidates. Food for thought.

    2. How is this relevent?

  3. What a pity we won't get all of them in the house. I can think of a few (non Maori) MPs who need replacement.



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