Thinking about voting……………some reflections on Elections 2011

Dr Leonie Pihama

Tonight the final of the seven Māori electorate debates screened on Māori Television. It was filmed live at Māori Television and one of our wahine from Te Wharepora Hou, Marama Davidson, was given the opportunity to ask a question from the floor. I must congratulate Māori Television for taking the debates to the electorates, it was a creative and thoughtful process that enabled our people to see candidates in action in their areas. Having whānau reflect on their views of not only candidates but on participation within the electoral system raised a range of views of access, participation and the relevance of the so-called ‘democratic system’ to many of our whānau who are struggling on a daily way to put food on the table, to ensure a home, to earn a living, to survive on benefits, to have the realities of youth reflected in party policies and actions. The questions from each electorate were grounded in what the people of each area saw as priorities, and they were asked from the voices of those of the regions. Questions from the floor were to the point and covered issues of child abuse, directions for Māori health, Māori educational access and options, the position of Māori women in leadership, and the impact of poverty on children and whānau. The line up of whānau, Sid and Karlos Diamond and fellow musician Pieter T, from South Auckland brought the relevance of the political system to the fore, with the emphasis on the need for parties to basically ‘mahia te mahi’, to do as they say they will do, ‘to practice what they preach’ and to promote their messages in ways that reach into our communities and speak directly to our whānau that are currently not engaged with the system. And in line with those thoughts, it really was no surprise that Sid opened the debate with a clear, direct question as to what the parties were going to do about child abuse within our communities. And so the scene was set for a debate that was to focus primarily on issues of whānau ora, the impact of poverty, Māori health, the ability to provide educational choices and options for whānau and tamariki, and the fundamental rights of Māori women to participate in decision making. All issues of social justice, all issues of collective rights, all issues of wellbeing for whānau, hapū, iwi and communities. Some would ask ‘who was the winner’, in fact there is an ongoing obsession with naming ‘a’ winner after political debates, and interestingly it is generally the exact media outlets that broadcast the debates that then define who the winner is. The Decision 11 Leaders Debate on TV3 was a prime example, with conservative, and racist, broadcaster Paul Henry declaring the Prime Minister John Key the winner of that debate, after declaring himself an objective commentator. Now that’s Tui Ad material! So I am not interested in the idea that after every Māori electorate debate that a winner has to be declared, what is more important and significant is that we now have a Māori broadcaster that will get out amongst our people and take the political process to the regions and engage with whānau and bring to the fore both the best and the worst of Māori politicians views. If we are to increase our collective political participation as a people then we need more active ‘taking it to the streets’ and not just during election year, but in the next three years there needs to be ways in which those who are elected are held accountable and where Māori politicians work across parties to ensure the overall wellbeing of our people. Perhaps, one of the most poignant statements tonight came from political commentator, Sandra Lee, who brought her many years of experience within parliament and left wing political parties to play when she stated quite emphatically that there is a ‘natural’ coalition that could be forged on the left with Labour, Greens, Māori Party and Mana, and that the debate tonight highlighted that. In fact, if we put personalities aside then that is clearly a view that can be taken not only from the seven Māori Television debates, but also from the TVNZ Minor Party Leaders debate. What the TVNZ debate showed was that within the six minor parties (Māori Party, Mana Party, Greens, Act, United and New Zealand First) all but two are led by Māori! That is a powerful sight to see, and I mean that in a very visual sense, as to see a line up of the five Maori leaders (Greens and Māori Party have co-leaders) of those parties is to see a very powerful line up of seasoned and articulate and passionate Māori political leaders. On that level alone we can as a people be incredibly inspired. So the question is then, how do we get the best of all of our people in ‘the house’. It seems highly likely that we will see at least four of these party leader, Tariana, Pita, Metiria and Hone return to parliament. Winston Peters is making his ‘Phoenix Rising From the Ashes’ return to the political scene, that is if we have any faith in political polls, or what are now referred to as (flawed) ‘landline’ polls. As is the case in election year, there are predictions galore however even just a few months ago there was little indication through the polling that there would be such a gradual move to the left. But then some would say ‘no one could predict the Rena oil spill’ – well no one except for iwi, environmentalists, greenpeace, anti-drilling movements, anti-mining activists and many others… and then few would have expected that the many manipulations, which some would call ‘lies’ from the Prime Minister on all kinds of things, including his privileged position in the 1% and his personal financial gains and his statements from meetings (which he never actually attended) about the downgrading of the countries economic status, would provide great material for a range of you tube downloads and facebook creations. And so here we are, 5 days out from a general election and things are not looking as definitively National as some predicted just a few weeks ago. So what does that mean for Māori. It means there is a potential and need for deeper strategic thinking in terms of where we put our ‘two ticks’. It means looking across all of the seven Māori electorates and the party votes associated with the Māori rolls and the potential for party votes from the General rolls that may go the way of Māori parties. In the 2008 election our people voted for their preferred candidate but gave the bulk of their party vote to Labour, even when their preferred candidate was from the Māori Party. Labour received on average around 45-57% of the party vote. What that shows is that our people clearly hedge our bets when it comes to the Māori seats and that on the whole the votes are split. It also means that we are still not getting the full value of the two votes that we have available to us. In some ways this is a reflection on the limited information being provided in terms of the party vote and its actual impact. So lets look at two examples of how the party vote could make an impact. If Hone Harawira wins the Tai Tokerau seat, which is highly likely in my view, then around a 1.5% party vote could see Annette Sykes in parliament irrespective of whether she wins Waiariki. If the Māori Party return four members into parliament then around a 3.6% party vote could see the inclusion of Kaapua Smith. So a conscious party voting process would see at least two more Māori women in parliament, and that has to be good for us all! Similarly, if we look at the Labour Party list we will see that there are a range of Māori politicians on the list who, even on current polling numbers, would be returned to Parliament. So there appear to be some strategic options for our people, they are just not clearly voiced. What we need are some political strategists to give us a clear overview of those numbers and the possibilities for our people and we need that before next Saturday!! For me, Sandra Lee’s comment that there is a potential left-wing coalition right here, right now is critical and we need to see that as a real possibility and use it to inspire and motivate our people to the polls. And it will all be finally dependent on where we chose to put our votes, and whether we are willing to move away from the idea that we vote for a party because it’s the party we have always voted for… or if we vote in ways that will mean we have MMP not only retained but increased to reflect its true meaning for us as a people … More Māori in Parliament. Nga mihi!!

Dr Leonie Pihama

Author: Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.

One thought on “Thinking about voting……………some reflections on Elections 2011”

  1. Hai! Hold that Thought! I Like It! Kia ora Leonie – what a great summary, analysis and just gotta love the suggested ‘Line-Up’ configuration. It’s certainly appealing and soooo ‘A-Lined!’ Yep … I could sleep easy on that.

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