Labour switches up strategy for Māori seats

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Labour’s Māori electorate MPs are returning to the party list this year after a bold play in 2017 saw them sweep all seven seats.

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Meka Whaitiri Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Last election’s decision to stay off the list was designed to wipe out the Māori Party and make room on the Labour list for greater Māori representation.

Labour’s Maori caucus co-chair Meka Whaitiri said the strategy worked with 13 Labour Māori MPs in government and the Māori Party gone.

The surprise move ahead of the last election required the six MPs who held electorates at the time to get an exemption.

Under Labour’s rules, a waiver can be granted for MPs wanting to opt off the party list “in special circumstances”.

In 2017 Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell held the seat of Waiariki but was beaten by Labour’s Tamati Coffey.

That ended the Māori Party’s time in Parliament as it failed to get above the 5 percent threshold needed to return.

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Flavell and his co-leader Marama Fox have since left and the Māori Party announced new leaders, John Tamihere and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Whaitiri said this time around the circumstances were different.

“The Māori campaign for 2017 was around political mandate from Māori voters and trying to increase the number of Māori coming in. In parts, we succeeded with 13 Māori – the seven party seats, four on the list and two in the general seats.

“This time around is completely different times, different context. We clearly want a strategy that retains all 13 Māori MPs and it is critical we retain all seven seats,” she said.

At the last election, Labour’s Māori MPs were sending a message to the electorate that if they didn’t vote for them as their MP then they wouldn’t return to Parliament at all.

“2017 was a one-off exemption and we put the argument to the party and we got the green light to do it. This time around it’s a different circumstance and a different time,” Whaitiri said.

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“It’s a message sending out to our voters that the party actually values the seven Māori seats and the wider caucus.”

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