The Māori seats were electrifying to watch as the results rolled in on Saturday. Here’s what happened.
Labour no longer has a monopoly on the seven Māori seats – for now. First-timer Rāwiri Waititi snatched Waiariki from one-term MP Tamati Coffey in a nail-biting neck and neck race, coming out ahead by only 415 votes after 20,709 were counted. The contest was so close, Coffey has chosen not to concede until the results of special votes are announced in two weeks’ time.
The Māori Party had Labour sweating in three electorates, including Tāmaki Makaurau, where both Marama Davidson and John Tamihere threatened to unseat Peeni Henare, and Te Tai Hauāuru, which saw Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer following hot on the tail of Adrian Rurawhe throughout the campaign and Saturday’s count.
Ultimately it ended the night having only secured Waiariki, after a hard-won battle where often only 20 votes separated the two. It’s a brutal reversal of fortune. Coffey was the underdog himself in 2017, winning the seat in a surprise upset from then-Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and pushing the Māori Party out of parliament. Waititi had stood in Waiariki for Labour in 2014, losing to Flavell. In August, he told the NZ Herald he had switched parties because “the Labour Party values didn’t really fit with my character, as you can see,” referring to his moko mataora and signature cowboy hat. “My very essence is very Māori, so I think I’ve now aligned myself in the right political waka.”
If successful, Waititi will be the first tane mau moko in parliament since Eastern Māori MP, Tareha te Moananui, 150 years ago.
The party might yet be able nab an overhang seat for Ngarewa-Packer if it can claw back more of the party share after special votes are counted in the coming weeks. Regardless, Waititi has a challenging three years ahead of him, especially as he’s set to take over co-leadership from Tamihere in the coming weeks.
All of the Māori Party candidates attended separate events on Saturday night. Tamihere’s Auckland celebration, at Te Atatū’s Et Tu Bistro, had an upbeat, party atmosphere, with entertainment from Howard Morrison Jr and Annie Crummer and exceptional catering, as expected from a kaupapa Māori organisation.
Tamihere conceded the Tāmaki Makaurau seat at about 10.30pm, but didn’t seem disappointed. He congratulated the successful candidates in his former party: “To our brothers and sisters in Labour, that have done well tonight, I just want to mihi to you, because it’s not about you and me – it’s about us.”
Early on in the night Tamihere told The Spinoff that no matter the outcome, he was proud of his team. “Here’s the beauty of our Pāti Māori – every one of them have committed to stay the course. There’s no one-hit-wonders. This party’s not born out of Ihumātao, or foreshore and seabed. It’s born out of a relentless belief in ourselves.”
This iteration of the Māori Party isn’t a single issue party but it is one that rose out of exceptional leadership shown during the height of Covid-19; all three of the hotly-contested electorates featured candidates who had led the response in their respective communities. Tamihere’s parting words looked to 2023. “All of our policy progress is intergenerational. So the pou we’ve put in the ground, as all Māori must, we’ll work toward it, whether it’s our own parliament, our own health authority. The only thing that works for Māori is self-management, self-design and self-determination.”
Easy Labour wins were announced early on for Nanaia Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato, Rino Tirikatene in Te Tai Tonga, Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau and Meka Whaitiri in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. With the Māori electorates covering such large areas, special votes are unlikely to affect those outcomes.
At a press conference in Auckland yesterday, prime minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to pour cold water on coalition discussions with the Māori Party, saying she hadn’t talked to them yet because “we hotly contest those seats with the Māori Party”.
The Māori electorates overwhelmingly voted red, the lowest share being 59.5% for Labour in Te Tai Tonga and the highest 67.6% in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. The Māori Party took 1.0% of the party vote nationally; in 2017 it had 1.2% and no electorate seats.
At the other end, votes for the disgraced Advance NZ party were comparable with National’s in all the Māori electorates except Te Tai Tonga, where Advance NZ overtook National’s share of the party vote in some areas.
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