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PoliticsOctober 13, 2023

Election 2023: The must-watch Māori seats

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Who’s leading in the polls? Will National’s return cause any upsets? And what is voters’ main concern? (Spoiler: it’s the cost of living). Liam Rātana looks at the state of play in the Māori electorates.

As we approach the general election, the political landscape within the Māori electorates is undergoing significant shifts. National is fielding candidates in two Māori electorates, the first time since 2002 that they have put up candidates for any of the seats. Yet for all National’s surging support this election, Māori electorates historically belong to the left. Will anything change this time around?


Here Labour’s Nanaia Mahuta, the country’s longest-serving female MP, is leading in recent polling. She’ll be praying that polling holds, as her absence from the list means she’ll be out of parliament if she comes up short. Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, the 20-year-old candidate for Te Pāti Māori, is nipping at Mahuta’s heels; whether via the electorate or on the party list, she’s set to be the youngest MP the country has seen in 170 years. As for the other candidates, Donna Pokere Phillips, co-leader of the NZ Outdoors & Freedom Party, has a history in local politics. The primary voter concern in Hauraki-Waikato is the cost of living. Labour’s support has waned since 2020, while Te Pāti Māori’s has grown, indicating a shifting political dynamic in the region.

Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke. Photo: Supplied


After over 23 years of Labour dominance in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, Meka Whaitiri created shockwaves when she left the party and her ministerial role to join Te Pāti Māori. Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, known for its vast geographical span, has historically been associated with Parekura Horomia, a revered figure in both Māori and wider New Zealand politics. Whaitiri, who was mentored by Horomia, and Labour’s new candidate Cushla Tangaere-Manuel, who counts him among her influences, are the main contenders for the seat. Recent polls suggest a close race between the two, with Tangaere-Manuel leading slightly. Key issues for the electorate include the cost of living and the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Tāmaki Makaurau

Hinurewa te Hau is contesting the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate for National, marking the first time since 2002 that the party has fielded a candidate for this seat. Meanwhile, Peeni Henare, seeking his fourth term for Labour, leads in the polls but faces competition from Takutai Kemp of Te Pāti Māori. Beyond the electorate race itself, multiple MPs from Tāmaki Makaurau could potentially make it into parliament, depending on party votes. All candidates agree on the importance of engaging young voters and addressing cost-of-living challenges, though their solutions vary. Vision New Zealand candidate Hannah Tamaki is also expected to gain a small share of votes thanks to her staunch supporter base. For more on Tāmaki Makaurau, check out Charlotte Muru-Lanning’s Hot Seat profile, to be published later today on The Spinoff.

Te Tai Hauāuru

A vast electorate stretching from Kawhia to Porirua, Te Tai Hauāuru is witnessing a competitive race after incumbent MP (and current speaker of the house) Adrian Rurawhe chose to go list-only. Historically represented by either Labour or the Māori Party, the seat is now also being vied for by National. The top three candidates are Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Pāti Māori, who narrowly lost in 2020; Labour’s Soraya Peke-Mason, a candidate for the seat back in 2011; and National’s Harete Hipango who, along with Hinurewa te Hau in Tāmaki Makaurau, is the party’s first Māori electorate candidate in over two decades. A recent poll shows Peke-Mason leading with 34%, followed by Ngarewa-Packer at 29% and Hipango at 12%. As is the story in most electorates, the cost of living is the top concern for voters.

Kelvin Davis, the incumbent in Te Tai Tokerau (Photo: Getty Images)

Te Tai Tokerau

A historically significant Māori electorate, Te Tai Tokerau is where Kelvin Davis, Labour’s deputy leader, is seeking re-election. Davis has held the seat since 2014, but he faces stiff competition from Mariameno Kapa-Kingi of Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party’s Hūhana Lyndon. Despite Davis’s past victories, there’s a potential shift in voter preference, with some predicting increased support for Kapa-Kingi reflecting the swing against Labour nationwide. If they lose, both Davis and Lyndon should still enter parliament on the party list, allowing for strategic voting. The northern region, known for its rich political history and influence, has long been central to Māori rights discussions. Infrastructure, employment opportunities, and the cost of living remain the region’s highest priorities.

Te Tai Tonga

In Te Tai Tonga, the South Island electorate, incumbent Labour MP Rino Tirikatene faces a tight race for re-election. While he secured 50.4% of votes in 2020, a recent poll shows him at 36%, with Tākuta Ferris of Te Pāti Māori trailing at 25% and 18% of voters remaining undecided. Again, the cost of living is a primary concern for voters in Te Tai Tonga. Both candidates have discussed their approaches to solving this issue, with Tirikatene focusing on controlling inflation and Ferris on removing GST from kai. The recent electorate debate also touched on mental health, potential coalition partners and tax policies, highlighting the shifting political dynamics in the post-Covid election landscape.


Up in the Bay of Plenty, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi is poised to retain his seat – he’s at 50% in a recent Whakaata Māori poll, significantly ahead of Labour’s first-time candidate Toni Boynton at 22%. Waititi previously defeated Labour’s Tāmati Coffey (who’s now running in the general electorate of East Coast) for the seat in 2020. While Waititi enjoys strong support among younger age groups, older voters are more closely divided between him and Boynton. On the party vote, most Waiariki voters favour Labour, but a significant portion supports Te Pāti Māori. The primary concern for Waiariki voters is – what else – the cost of living.

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