Del­i­cate bal­ance af­ter by-elec­tion

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

If noth­ing else, Hone Harawira’s nar­row vic­tory in the Te Tai Tok­erau by­elec­tion has jus­ti­fied the hold­ing of the by-elec­tion it­self. Orig­i­nally greeted as be­ing a stunt by Harawira – in that his 6000 vote ma­jor­ity was sup­posed to make him a shoo-in – the battle for the seat even­tu­ally went down to the wire.

All in­volved can take valu­able lessons from it, as a pointer to the gen­eral elec­tion in Novem­ber.

For Harawira and his fledg­ling Mana Party, a win – of any sort – put them on the map, and they can rea­son­ably ex­pect an eas­ier ride next time around.

In Novem­ber, Labour and its for­mi­da­ble elec­tion-day ma­chine will be fo­cused else­where around the coun­try.

With hind­sight, that 6000 plus ma­jor­ity was al­ways mis­lead­ing in that it was the high-wa­ter mark of two forces – the tide go­ing out on nine years of a Labour gov­ern­ment, and the surge com­ing in for the Maori Party, which back in 2008 was seen as the tri­umphant stan­dard-bearer of tan­gata whenua hopes and ex­pec­ta­tions.

That land­scape has changed dra­mat­i­cally.

For Labour, the fine ef­fort by its can­di­date, Kelvin Davis, will be taken as ev­i­dence that Labour is on the come­back trail in the Maori elec­torates, and that some Maori seats could even be winnable in Novem­ber, es­pe­cially if the Mana Party com­petes and splits the vote.

It also sig­nals that the vast ma­jor­ity of Maori now re­gard Labour as be­ing the lesser evil of the two ma­jor par­ties and re­gard co-op­er­a­tion with Labour in a more favourable light.

For a Labour op­po­si­tion that has been on star­va­tion ra­tions all year when it comes to good news, Labour will take such crumbs of com­fort gladly.

For the Maori Party, this re­sult would have been worse only if it had suc­ceeded in split­ting the vote and handed Harawira a far big­ger ma­jor­ity.

Well aware it could not beat Harawira on his home turf, it chose a poor can­di­date likely to give Davis the best chance of re­mov­ing the thorn in the Maori Party’s side.

That long-shot gam­ble failed.

At best, the sense of a tight con­test in Te Tai Tok­erau may limit Harawira’s mo­men­tum in the other Maori seats.

More im­por­tantly, the re­sult showed how thor­oughly the wind has gone out of the Maori Party sails. It ap­pears to be seen as more a col­lab­o­ra­tor with the Gov­ern­ment than as an ef­fec­tive cham­pion around the Cabi­net ta­ble.

Be­tween now and Novem­ber, Pita Sharples and Tar­i­ana Turia will have their work cut out try­ing to turn around that per­cep­tion. Given this by-elec­tion re­sult, can trum­pet­ing their achieve­ments – and close­ness – to Na­tional be a wise sur­vival tac­tic, and do they have any other choice?

All of which only serves to un­der­line the volatil­ity and as­pi­ra­tional na­ture of the Maori vote.

Suc­ces­sively since the mid-1990s, New Zealand First, the Maori Party and now the Mana Party have been the cho­sen ve­hi­cles of Maori ex­pec­ta­tions.

Harawira will want to make some­thing more durable out of his cur­rent con­nec­tion with Maori vot­ers.

His party list – and the bal­ance it strikes be­tween the Maori and pakeha can­di­dates on it – will be cru­cial to his chances of dis­plac­ing the Maori Party as the gen­uine rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his peo­ple.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.