Clockwise from left: Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Tāmati Coffey, Marama Davidson and Peeni Henare (Photos: Supplied, Getty Images)

Pōtitanga predictions: What to watch out for in the Māori electorates

Some nail-biting battles are brewing in the Māori seats – here’s a primer so you know what to keep an eye out for as the results start rolling in.

Candidates from four different parties have stood in the seat of Te Tai Tokerau since MMP was introduced. While Labour’s Kelvin Davis has polled streaks ahead of the other candidates in the electorate in this election, it’s a reminder that Māori are strategic voters, and don’t let sitting MPs rest on their laurels.

In Te Tai Hauāuru, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has captained a strong campaign as the Māori Party co-leader, and many have pegged her as the party’s best chance. Although incumbent Adrian Rurawhe was polling ahead, 30% of voters in the electorate said they were undecided, and the popular Ngāti Ruanui CEO could still pull ahead. Rurawhe won the seat in 2014 – previously the four-term stronghold of Māori Party founder Tariana Turia – but only narrowly beat beloved former rugby league star Howie Tamati in 2017.

Labour’s Tāmati Coffey caused one of the biggest upsets of 2017 when he went up against the well-loved Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki and won, ushering the Māori Party out of parliament. Now Coffey has his own challenger in the Māori Party’s Rāwiri Waititi, who has run an excellent campaign and could yet snatch victory.

Tāmaki Makaurau is another popcorn seat, with a possible three outcomes. Peeni Henare probably isn’t too worried but Marama Davidson, who is challenging for a third time, campaigned with the full weight of the Greens behind her this time around. It’s been a grassroots battle fought mostly in South Auckland and led with mana wāhine values – it’s a point of difference that could make all the difference if she has managed to engage a number of first-time voters. On the other hand, John Tamihere, the former Labour MP who was a surprise announcement as the new Māori Party co-leader back in April, has run a tight ship. As number seven on the party list (with Ngarewa-Packer in first position, it was announced as a lead-from-the-front-and-back-of-the-waka strategy) it seemed unlikely he’d be changing his commute after the election. However, Tamihere has stayed focused on the campaign message, and avoided any of the controversial statements that have dogged both his broadcasting and parliamentary careers.

Like Rāwiri Waititi, Tākuta Ferris has impressed on the campaign trail for the Māori Party in Te Tai Tonga with his strong oratory skills and likeability. It’ll be hard to unseat three-term Labour MP Rino Tirikatene, but Ferris’s popularity is perhaps a sign of bigger things to come in future elections.

In Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, Labour incumbent Meka Whaitiri looks safe, with the Māori Party’s Heather Te Au-Skipworth trailing in a Māori TV poll. Labour’s longtime MP Nanaia Mahuta also seems certain to retain Hauraki-Waikato.

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