National’s Nancy Lu, inset campaigning with Andrew Bayly in Port Waikato (Photos: Instagram, design Tina Tiller)
National’s Nancy Lu, inset campaigning with Andrew Bayly in Port Waikato (Photos: Instagram, design Tina Tiller)

PoliticsNovember 24, 2023

Next on the list: Nancy Lu’s political future hangs on Port Waikato

National’s Nancy Lu, inset campaigning with Andrew Bayly in Port Waikato (Photos: Instagram, design Tina Tiller)
National’s Nancy Lu, inset campaigning with Andrew Bayly in Port Waikato (Photos: Instagram, design Tina Tiller)

National is expected to win tomorrow’s byelection, but its candidate in the Port Waikato electorate is already in parliament on the list. That means Nancy Lu is likely on her way to Wellington. She talks to Stewart Sowman-Lund.

Nancy Lu’s name isn’t on the ballot for tomorrow’s Port Waikato byelection, but she’s still likely to be a National MP by next week.

The byelection was triggered before last month’s election after the death of Act’s candidate in Port Waikato, Neil Christensen. Under New Zealand’s Electoral Act, that meant that no Port Waikato MP was elected on October 14 but, owing to a constitutional quirk, every seat in parliament was still filled. 

But once the byelection outcome is known on Saturday evening, parliament will gain another MP – its 123rd (on top of the usual 120 seats plus two “overhang” seats for Te Pāti Māori).

While National’s Andrew Bayly is the frontrunner to win Port Waikato, he’s already safely back in parliament due to his position on the list. That means that if he does indeed win, he will likely forfeit his list position in order to become the MP for Port Waikato, opening up a slot for another National MP to head down to Wellington.

He has the option not to do this and could simply switch titles – but it seems unlikely any party would want to miss out on an extra caucus member.

Next on the list for National is Lu, a second-time candidate who was surprisingly highly ranked for someone who has never been an MP. At number 20, she was placed above the likes of current MPs Tama Potaka, Scott Simpson and Stuart Smith (all of whom made it back in through winning their electorates). In her first campaign, in 2020, she was placed at number 26 – a remarkable list position for a then-newbie.

Lu spoke to The Spinoff earlier in the week in between door knocking for Bayly in Port Waikato. She’s been visible in the electorate for weeks but denies that it’s because she’s also, in a way, campaigning for herself. “It is a very large electorate by geography, so we’re campaigning as hard as we can every day and not taking things for granted,” she said. 

“It’s not just been the last three weeks [since the special votes]…for many candidates around the Port Waikato area we’ve been working on it for the last six weeks now. It’s teamwork, I’m not only just doing it because I’m the next one in the line.”


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Port Waikato is accurately considered a safe blue seat, given National has never lost it – though it’s only existed for five elections. Other than National, just one party in the incoming parliament is standing a candidate in Port Waikato on Saturday: New Zealand First. Running is their number three candidate, and incoming MP, Casey Costello. A smattering of fringe parties including Liz Gunn’s NZ Loyal are also contesting in a last-ditch effort to get into parliament after a dismal election night. 

Labour openly admitted the seat was “unwinnable” for the party, while Act and the Greens also opted to bypass the byelection. 

Early voting has been low as is typical with byelections. Just over 9,000 people had cast ballots as of Monday. By comparison, more than 15,000 people voted for Bayly alone in 2020. It makes the race slightly more unpredictable than in a general election, with candidates expressing concern about complacency.

But this is National’s battle to lose, even if Lu won’t admit it. “We still have a lot of work to do,” she said, adding that a lot of people she has met in the electorate were unaware there was even a byelection this weekend. 

Born in China, Lu migrated to New Zealand as a child with her parents in the late 1990s. The addition of Lu in government will work to slightly offset criticism National has faced for the lack of diversity in its incoming caucus. While the party’s list was touted for its balance, many list-only candidates haven’t made it to parliament because of National’s over-performance in electorates. The party has no Pasifika MPs and the lowest proportion of Māori MPs of any political party

If Lu enters parliament next week, she would be just the party’s second new MP of Chinese descent. Across the whole parliament, the proportion of MPs of Asian ethnicity (not including Lu) only marginally increased this election, from 6.5% in 2020 to 6.6% in 2023. A mix of backgrounds was important for any party, said Lu, but she believed the party already had a “good diverse caucus”. 

A chartered accountant by profession, Lu has worked around the world for companies like PWC and Fonterra. A mother of two young children, she’s been an active member of National since 2015 and said she was drawn in by the party’s values and principles. She looks up to leader Christopher Luxon, calling him a “very caring” leader. When asked where she sits within National’s broad range of political beliefs, Lu would not give herself any “taglines” but said she felt naturally at home in the party and “passionate” about representing it. 

“I just know that I work extremely hard and I want to work extremely hard so that I can advocate for the people that need people advocating for them in their lives and in their communities,” she said.

“I feel that people are very keen to listen to the perspectives and community voices that I bring in, but also at the same time they don’t see me just because of how I look. People are willing to [listen to] me because of the experience that I bring in.”


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With 50 National MPs in the incoming parliament, it would be understandable if Lu was disappointed she didn’t make it in on election night. Because of how the MMP system works, there’s room for just five list MPs in National’s caucus. Along with Bayly, these are Nicola Willis, Paul Goldsmith, Melissa Lee and Gerry Brownlee.

But Lu said she spent election night celebrating the change of government. “I am a voter too, and so I had voted for that and I was happy to see that we were able to get to that,” she said. 

“I won’t use the word ‘gutted’ because politics, the more that we are in it, the more we understand that everything can have an impact on the final result. I actually felt really grateful that night at the election party because I was able to have my volunteers there and we were able to celebrate.”

She’s also excited about the possibility that come Sunday morning, she could be on her way to parliament. Being next on the list, she took part in the induction process for incoming MPs earlier in the month despite not being elected at the time. It was a full-on experience, she said, but one that reaffirmed in her mind that she wants to be a parliamentarian. 

With just one day of the byelection campaign left, Lu said she won’t be getting ahead of herself. “There is still more we can do and, just like any election, afterwards you say ‘there was always more we can do’ – but I would never take it for granted that it’s a foregone conclusion.”

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