One of the biggest winners of election 2023 was Te Pāti Māori, who doubled the size of their caucus by bringing in two exciting fresh faces.
What happened across the Māori seats last night was nothing short of remarkable. While Labour went into the election comfortably holding six of the seven Māori electorates, as the results are now, it’s looking like they’ll only keep three – with Te Pāti Māori growing their share of seats from one to four.
Co-leader Rawiri Waititi kept his Waiariki seat with the biggest margin (by far) of all the Māori seats. And his co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer finished with a strong lead in Te Tai Hauāuru.
The southernmost and largest electorate, Te Tai Tonga, which has been held by Labour’s Rino Tirikatene for over a decade, looks set to be taken by Tākuta Ferris. And in Hauraki-Waikato, Labour’s Nanaia Mahuta, who has held the seat since 2008 (and since 2002 in its previous incarnation) has lost the seat to 21-year-old Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke. To put that in perspective, Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was 23 when she first made it into parliament on the Green list in 2017, and up until now has remained the youngest MP. The result will also mean that Mahuta, who is the longest consecutively-serving female MP, will retire from politics as she had decided to remain off the list and only contest the electorate. These two results especially will come as massive shocks for Labour.
But it wasn’t entirely dire for Labour. First-time Labour candidate Cushla Tangaere-Manuel managed to win Ikaroa-Rāwhiti with a surprisingly comfortable lead over Meka Whaitiri, who defected from Labour to Te Pāti Māori earlier this year and who had held the seat for a decade. In Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Tai Tokerau, Labour MPs Peeni Henare and Kelvin Davis managed to retain their seats against Te Pāti Māori – but only by slim margins which could get even slimmer after the special vote count.
To some, these results will come as a surprise. Labour was polling ahead of Te Pāti Māori in all but one of the Māori electorates, and many of these were considered safe seats held by senior ministers.
The case of Hauraki-Waikato
Rangiriri is a historically significant place to Māori. In 1863, it was the first major battleground of the Waikato War – but on election night 2023, this wāhi tapu was historically relevant for a very different reason.
Te Pāti Māori candidate Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke (whose election night party was at Rangiriri and attended by Kiingi Tūheitia) just made history twice. Firstly, she unseated Nanaia Mahuta in Hauraki-Waikato, who had held the seat (and its predecessor) since 1999; before Maipi-Clarke was born. Secondly, the 21-year-old has become New Zealand’s second youngest MP ever – quite the achievement for someone who refused the call to enter politics four times before finally accepting an offer from Te Pāti Māori. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough,” she said to her gathered supporters on election night, at an event that felt more like a family-friendly 21st birthday than a political gathering.
Maipi-Clarke also thanked Mahuta for her mahi in the electorate over the years, and said it laid the groundwork for local rangatahi like herself to succeed. “I’ve been inspired by whaea Nanaia my whole life in terms of her political leadership,” she said. Potaka Maipi, her dad, told The Spinoff: “I prepared her to get thrashed, not to win. Our aim was to close the gap.” The gap being the 9,000-vote majority Mahuta won in 2020. Maipi-Clarke’s roughly 1,000-vote majority this time around means she swung 10,000 votes in her direction.
Maipi conceded that he didn’t think his daughter could achieve such a massive turnaround, saying, “When we started this campaign, we came in thinking we weren’t going to win, but we’d give it a good go. I always thought Mahuta would pull through in the end.” He added, “We were working every day with no budget and no campaigning experience. We were in a minor party and didn’t have a big party machine behind us.”
But Te Pāti Māori knew they’d pulled off the upset win once Mahuta called Maipi-Clarke to concede just after 10.30pm. “You have my full support,” said Mahuta during the heartfelt phone call. She warned that, given the blue wave, Maipi-Clarke’s parliamentary work in opposition won’t be easy, but it is nonetheless vital for Māori across the motu.
When Maipi-Clarke was asked how she felt about her historic entrance into parliament, she explained that the win wasn’t solely hers, but was a win for mokopuna to come. “It’s about our babies, it’s about kohanga reo, it’s about our whare kura … it’s so much bigger than just myself,” she said. She was also quick to spread the praise for the victory, saying the result comes down to “the love and support from my whānau”. Her namesake Hana Te Hemara – one of the key figures of the 1970s Māori renaissance – will surely be singing a waiata tautoko from the afterlife to celebrate her mokopuna making history.
The secret sauce
The triumphant result for Te Pāti Māori follows a unique campaign which focussed on engaging voters on the ground and through social media. Much of the messaging was about differentiating the party from its earlier iteration, which suffered a devastating result in 2017 after working with the National Party. “We can’t be who we were in the last era,” Ngarewa-Packer told The Spinoff earlier this year. “There was a lot of time spent trying to re-identify ourselves, reposition ourselves; most importantly, to remind ourselves why a Māori movement is really important.”
They’ve also likely benefited from the widespread move for change that has seen the Labour Party plummet to half its vote from 2020 and lose some of its safest electorate seats across the country. Even before the campaign period, the pair used their time in parliament to connect with voters, notably using bold fashion choices and symbolic spectacle in the hopes of galvanising otherwise unengaged voters. And it seems to have worked a charm: the party of two has managed an outsized presence in the country’s political landscape and how it looks and feels. Now that’s translated to something even more tangible: seats.