Gaurav Sharma claims the Labour party was going to invoke the waka jumping provisions, so he resigned. The party says otherwise. Sharma can also start his own party without triggering the party hopping law, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin
Gaurav Sharma tries to get ahead of costly byelection talk
Announcing his resignation in a 1,500 word Facebook post yesterday afternoon, Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma was at pains to preempt talk of how costly a byelection is. “Labour will now try to spin my decision by talking about the cost of the byelection” he wrote. Among other things, he cited Paul Eagle still getting paid while running for mayor of Wellington (Eagle confirmed he was donating $24k to charity last week). Had Eagle won the mayoralty, the estimated cost of the byelection in Rongotai was pegged at $1.2m. One in Hamilton West will likely come in around a cool million dollars.
Labour says it was not going to invoke waka jumping provisions
Sharma’s basis for resignation was that he’d been advised that the party planned to invoke the waka jumping rule six months before the next election to remove him from parliament and ensure there is no need for a byelection. In a statement issued shortly after Sharma’s post, prime minister Jacinda Ardern clarified that the party has not and was not considering invoking the waka jumping provisions. Labour party president Claire Szabó has confirmed the party recommended Sharma be expelled from the party but also denied plans to use the waka jumping provisions.
Rewind: a reminder on waka jumping
“Waka jumping” is the colloquial moniker for what became the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act. Passed in 2018, it was labelled “a bad solution to a non-existent problem” by Jeanette Fitzsimons at the time (worth a reread right now). If Sharma wants to fulfil his stated intention of starting his own party, he doesn’t need to trigger a byelection to do that. I asked law professor Andrew Geddis about this and Geddis said “Sharma can announce he is forming a party, then register it with the Electoral Commission, and then even style himself publicly as being an MP from that party, all without triggering the party hopping law.” Geddis also raised questions about Sharma’s claim that Labour was going to wait until six months before the election and then boot him to avoid a byelection. “A byelection can only be avoided within six months of an election if 75% of MPs agree to this happening. So, National would have had to go along with the scheme. That is not a given,” said Geddis.
A byelection in Hamilton West is “a full-blown migraine” for Labour
What’s done is done and we now turn to the political ramifications. Toby Manhire writes: “If Tauranga was a headache for Labour, a byelection in Hamilton West is a full-blown migraine.” Manhire explores all the reasons why the timing and electorate in question make this bad news for the governing party. Stuff’s Rachel Moore looks at who might stand against Sharma who says he will run under the banner of his new centrist party. The Herald’s Audrey Young writes (paywalled) that “it was Jacinda Ardern in a Covid crisis, not Gaurav Sharma who won Hamilton West for Labour in 2020 but it will be a miracle if she can save it in 2022.”