May 7, 2013

The chief has left the building

It was a sweet sort of sorrow. Sweet sorrow might be an oxymoron, but it captures the mood. The tributes were warm and in good humour, but mindful of the immense loss. Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti were glorious hosts and the whanau – warmest regards to them – were so generous. It will be a long time, a very long time before Maori lose another like Parekura.

Now that the chief is resting, attention is turning to the byelection. The Speaker will declare the seat vacant and the fish will start circling. I’ve thrown together my rough thoughts:

  • Labour can and might win by default, but a default win doesn’t guarantee momentum. Momentum will fall to whoever controls the discourse. Maori political discourse is not as fluid as mainstream discourse. Debate doesn’t conform to news cycles – issues are dealt with on “Marae time”* – and issues are framed differently.    
  • Even if Labour doesn’t control the discourse, the Labour candidate can ride off of the mana and affection Parekura earnt. That’s an advantage, but that assessment is missing the third (and most important) factor: the winning candidate will embody or be seen to embody Parekura’s legacy. Think kanohi kitea and so on. 
  • Whakapapa is important, as always. Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungungu dominate the electorate. Ngati Kahungungu is larger (in number), but Ngati Porou is larger in influence and political pedigree. A candidate with links to either Ngati Porou or Ngati Kahungungu is essential (preferably both). 
  • The Labour candidate will have access to decent party infrastructure. Parekura kept several active branches and had knowledgeable and experienced staffers in Gisborne, Hastings and (on and off) in Wainuiomata. The other parties do not enjoy corresponding infrastructure. 
  • Ikaroa-Rawhiti is not as urbanised as Te Tai Tonga or Tamaki Makaurau. It is a provincial, working class electorate. In Te Tai Tonga, for example, it would be enough to run a Wellington/Christchurch-centric campaign. Ikaroa-Rawhiti demands a spread. Labour is best placed to run an electorate-wide campaign. 
  • Interestingly, 23% of voters speak te reo, 38% have no qualification and 50% are religious. Comparatively high rates. With that in mind, having decent reo should be a requirement for any candidate (though not entirely essential - you can get away with not having it), religion is a nice to have ("nice to have" is the wrong term isn't it?), but not essential and running a education-focused campaign (like Parekura always did) is essential. 
  • The by election should be treated as a dry run for the Maori seats in 2014. 

Post script: I don’t want to start this discussion too soon and I’ll gladly withdraw if that’s the case.

*A common saying. The fancy interpretation is that there is no time out, no time limit or any other time dictate. Usually it just means everything takes ages.

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