Tactical Voting, Manaakitanga and the Northland By-Election

Mana to Manaakitanga source: http://temangoroa.tki.org.nz/var/tki-tem/storage/images/media/images/mana-to-manaakitanga/47193-1-eng-NZ/mana-to-manaakitanga_large.png

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Quite anxious about posting. Worried about the backlash. The thing is, I don’t consider tactical voting as inherently bad. I just think that some strategies appear inconsistent with tikanga Māori. In particular, the principle of manaakitanga. That principle might not be important to non-Māori electors, but it does, in my view, matter where the particular electorate involves a candidate and constituents committed to kaupapa Māori.

Note, I am not suggesting that I am an authority nor that I speak on behalf of all Māori electors. Rather, it is my personal analysis regarding my interpretation and how I have come to understand manaakitanga and the problems I see with tactical voting in this particular regard.

Before I get into the substance of my concern, its necessary for the purposes of transparency to outlay a couple of disclosures. Firstly, I am a Māori Party (MP) member, and secondly, as reported in the media the idea of strategic voting was discussed at the Strategy and Executive levels of the MP with regard to the Te Tai Tokerau seat during the 2014 Election. Of note, views on strategic voting within the MP groups with whom I have had close contact with anyway,  is not settled. Many, like myself, were and remain strongly opposed to the idea of pulling a candidate just because polling is unfavourable. The concern revolves around the stripping of the candidates mana as a result of such a process. (I’d go as far as saying this is similarly true with standing a candidate but not allowing or perhaps discouraging them from seeking a candidate vote).

In brief, manaakitanga is about behaving in a way that is uplifting and enhances the mana of others. It is about positive role modelling and preserving the integrity of individuals, whānau, hapū, iwi and the wider community. (I am mindful that the concept can and does change within and between whānau, hapū and iwi, however, these characteristics seem to be widely accepted).

So I’m not convinced that the disavowal of an elected candidate, in this case, Willow-Jean Prime who has expressed a strong desire and genuine commitment to seek the electorate vote is in anyway mana enhancing or positive role modeling. To add insult to injury, encouraging people to vote for her rival candidate Winston Peters who has known sexist, bigoted and racist traits (recalling his joke at the expense of the Chinese) and has expressed a clear aversion to Te Tiriti o Waitangi reflects a lack of respect for the integrity and mana of Prime. It is essentially a strategy of two facing Prime by claiming on the one hand that she is the best candidate but undermining that message by getting people to not vote for her and to vote for Peters which is inconsistent with what manaakitanga involves.

For clarity, electors who were already going to vote for Peters are not participating in this mana stripping exercise. Additionally, if a candidate voluntarily revokes their commitment to seek the electorate vote then the strategy can arguably be said to not breach the principle. Although, there would remain issues regarding whether whānau, hapū, iwi and wider community see this kind of strategy as an attack on their integrity and mana.

The prevailing narrative is that a vote for Prime is essentially a wasted vote or a vote for National. But it’s not. That story is moral blackmail. It attempts to alienate any person who exercises their democratic right to vote for the candidate that they believe will best represent their interests and the interests of their electorate. This particular kind of tactical voting insists that the personal preferences of electors and the mana of candidates be set aside for the ‘greater good’ of the left. For Māori electors, it asks or rather demands that Māori identify as left first and only thereafter as Māori.

There is indeed a place for tactical voting provided it isn’t coupled with coercion. Where people aren’t induced to vote in a particular way due to fear of exclusion or public condemnation. Where people aren’t morally blackmailed into taking a particular position. And where campaigns and candidates aren’t undermined in a way that is mana stripping.

Some argue that this strategy is not coercive but instead educational. I’m still unconvinced by this argument too. The presumption is that all the strategy does is propose an option for voters together with counter-scenarios to let them make a choice. Yet, this is most often coupled with the above narrative and has led to verbal assaults on the non-compliant, at least in online forums. Moreover, it delivers information in a way designed to persuade a voter to conform rather than to impart knowledge. Some may not see the problem with that. That’s their prerogative. But when a person refuses to conform and is then castigated by their supposed left wing allies for daring to have an alternative view, it cannot pretend to be educational.  And given the extent of manipulation we as individuals are already subjected to, I find it alarming that many of these people would criticise media manipulation while engaging in the same tactics.

The awful rhetoric (coming from some very active voices) that followed the left bloc loss at the 2014 election was that everyone who didn’t vote according to a particular strategy guide were whollly responsible for National’s win, must hate people, are selfish and greedy, and lack intelligence – some suggested even that some shouldn’t have bothered voting at all [the irony given the push was to attract the elusive missing million]. So instead of holding up the principle of democracy, it became a game of ‘democracy on our terms only’. Free choice erased. Manaakitanga not even a feature of the story. Camaraderie existing only in conformity, under a strategy of manipulation.


Te Reo Māori: Crown or Iwi control?

Prior to this week’s episode of Native Affairs, I had very little knowledge on the raruraru concerning the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill (‘the Bill’). Well, I knew there was some contention but was unsure of the specifics.

Native Affairs host Mihi Forbes interviewed Dr Pita Sharples and Maanu Paul regarding the  Bill. The argument boiled down to what Paul described as deficient consultation and the allegation that Sharples was intentionally denying the New Zealand Māori Council (NZMC) access to justice by rushing the Bill through Parliament thereby preventing the NZMC from bringing the Bill before the Waitangi Tribunal.

During the interview, Forbes asked Sharples if his actions in blocking the NZMC from going to the Waitangi Tribunal were equivalent to Labour’s blocking Māori from their right to be heard in court regarding the Foreshore and Seabed. It was a tough question, because in both instances, the right to be heard is prima facie infringed. However, in my view, confiscating land through the unilateral actions of the Crown against recommendations from the UN and with the intended purpose to override a court decision (see Ngati Apa), compared with putting a bill before the house following a 4 year consultation period are not, at least in my opinion, equivalent. I agree there needs to be clarification around what amounts to sufficient consultation, and the conflicting accounts of whether it was sufficient in this case make it difficult to assess from an external perspective.

What is on record, is that Sharples began the consultation in 2010 when he set up Te Paepae Motuhake to review the Māori language strategy. Since then he has met with reo stakeholders, iwi leaders, reo exponents and experts as well as the NZMC who also came to all these hui. In addition, the Bill will pass through the legislative process under which it will be subject to public scrutiny and further input through the select committee process.

During the airing of the Native Affairs interview, there was also an interesting exchange on twitter between Adrian Rurawhe (Labour Party) and Chris McKenzie (Māori Party) – both candidates for the Te Tai Hauāuru Māori electorate seat in the upcoming election, with Rurawhe in favour of the NZMC and McKenzie supporting Sharples.

Rurawhe argued that the NZMC were correct and that the bill should be put before the Waitangi Tribunal and criticised Sharples admission of wanting to implement the bill prior to his resignation. Rurawhe was not alone in criticising Sharples timeframe and I too think Sharples erred in his choice of words. But as we learnt with David Cunliffe’s apology the preceding week, context is important. I suppose we ought to ask whether wanting to complete work that has undergone a four-year consultation period before resigning so that work started is not left incomplete for incoming parliamentarians is equivalent to or carries the same intention as rushing through legislation? I guess people will make up their own minds depending on their levels of cynicism. It might be worthwhile remembering that rushing through legislation is what the Labour Party did when it passed the Foreshore & Seabed legislation that amounted to the largest confiscation of land since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  Or what National did when it rushed through the Mixed Ownership Model Bill despite strong public opposition.

McKenzie’s reply to Rurawhe was that the NZMC are an organisation that purport to represent all Māori yet there was no consultation when they [the NZMC] were appointed and that there are few representatives on the Council itself, suggesting there was a certain irony in the claim they sought to bring before the Waitangi Tribunal.

The Labour Party’s Māori Affairs spokesperson, Nanaia Mahuta has called on Sharples to immediately withdraw the bill. Mahuta claims:

“The proposed Te Matawai agency will effectively replace the Maori Language Commission for no good reason and without any evidence it will protect Te Reo Maori”

And the New Zealand Herald reports that the  NZMC want an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing to:

“stop proposed legislation that will see control of the agencies that safeguard Te Reo Māori given to iwi” (emphasis added)

McKenzie has also criticised that nobody had done anything about a reo strategy for years including during the years of plenty and that Te Mātāwai was in fact no different to Te Ohu Kaimoana or the NZMC.

Before proceeding, I must respectfully acknowledge that it was the NZMC that successfully brought the Te Reo Māori claim before the Waitangi Tribunal in 1985 and the following year Māori became an official language of NZ under the Māori Language Act 1987.  Noting,  it is this Act that is to be reformed to transfer control of te reo Māori from the Crown back to iwi.

What is clear here is that both the Labour Party and the NZMC are signalling a preference for Crown control of Te Reo Māori over Māori control but criticism is not limited to Labour and the NZMC.  Other commenter’s insisted that the reforms were a different kind of centralisation which still deprived whānau, hapu and the less dominant iwi groups control over te reo.  However, in other discussions,  another commenter put it a bit differently claiming:

“Isn’t it wonderful that question is not whether Māori should be running te reo, but who in Māoridom should be running it?”  [emphasis added]

It seems that many of those opposing the Māori Language Bill are content to see te reo controlled by the Crown and are resigned to the framing of the issue in terms of ‘whether or not Māori should be running te reo’. But isn’t preferencing the Crown over iwi something Māori have been fighting against since the inception of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

I do share the concern with those who think that some iwi are privileged over others under the Bill. But I also hold out hope that the reforms put the centre of any power over te reo closer to the community meaning there is more opportunity to participate and for further decentralisation over time.

What must be remembered is that it is currently the Crown that runs the Māori language strategy. We can either maintain the status quo or start taking steps toward decentralising control to put our taonga back in the hands of our people.

Ouch. The Left Polling Low

The latest poll sees a massive defeat of the Left as Labour slump to a meagre 23.2% and National rise to 56.5% enough to govern alone. As Jono Natusch writes:

The only minor party that might look at the poll with any comfort is Internet Mana, which picks up a combined 2.1%, which would likely bring them a third MP, should Hone Harawira hold Te Tai Tokerau.

Frank Macskasy has a theory on the mass drop in Labour/Green Bloc support: the budget, economy and infighting within Labour and between potential coalition partners.

I think he is partially correct. But I think he avoids the elephant in the room – the rise of the Internet-Mana Party (IMP). The contentious alliance, announcement of the IP Leader and the exorbitant funds being injected to fund the IMP campaign coincides with the drop for Labour Green support in the latest polls. It will be interesting to see if this remains a trend.

There is some irony in this ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’   justification. Those employing the phrase failed to consider that not all New Zealander’s are  endeared to Dotcom and many left voters might be more inclined to have National as their friend than Dotcom. The polls are increasingly suggesting that people  are preferring a National led government and all its toxicity to what is on offer on the left.

The averages of  the June polls according to David Farrar:

I guess Labour and the Greens need to work out if any drop in their support is related to IMP and what steps they need to take to mitigate further losses.


Labours strategy might just work in their favour


[Image sourced from Radio NZ]

There is a great deal of debate about whether Labour ought to be supporting the Internet Mana Party (IMP) alliance or whether it should stand its ground. To the contempt of some, they appear to have taken the latter approach – standing their ground and campaigning on ‘principles’.

Labour’s ‘principles’ strategy, might just see it creep up a percentage point or two in the next poll as those who fear the influence of IMP in a left leaning government may consider throwing their weight behind Labour to ensure a strong majority. On the other hand, those same voters might instead flee to the right preferring the status quo to a potentially volatile left.

The IMP’s mouthpiece, The Daily Blog (TDB), consider Labour’s strategy divisive. However, Labour are doing what Labour does – engaging their own strategy.  It’s only criticised as divisive because Labour refuse to submit to the election strategy template designed by a contentious minor party. Instead, Labour are reasserting their role as top dog on the left and are attempting to reclaim it [the left] following their decline over the past few elections. This is evident in David Cunliffe’s response to Mana’s stance on amnesty for overstayers:

“Mana are getting ahead of themselves, it’s easy for minor partys to promise the world, major partys make rules.”

We should probably remember Matt McCarten’s role in all this too. McCarten was employed to ensure a Labour victory. Not a victory for the left, a victory for Labour. He appears to be keeping a low profile but this is arguably a smart move. It ensures that the Labour Party isn’t equivocated with him, given his high profile in political commentary, activism, and unionism, and allows Cunliffe to lead without distraction.

In contrast, IMP have allowed Bradbury and Trotter to belch into their (TDB) echo chamber putting off probably more people than they claim to have gained. Additionally, the IMP alliance is supposedly led by Hone Harawira, but Laila Harre, Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party are dominating the media (social and news), which makes it difficult (for voters) to see who is in control. Noting, Harawira’s weary interjection that he was still the leader of the alliance during Harre’s IP leadership announcement.

Its difficult to say at this stage whose strategy will win. I don’t see Mana gaining significantly more votes than it already enjoys. And prior to Harre’s appointment, I thought the IP might have more appeal across the board thereby picking up a wider spread of voters, because they were not wedded to a left ideal. However, I’m not sure she’ll attract new votes [from the missing million], instead she may simply steal votes because her fans are most likely politically engaged types who already participate in elections. As a combined number, I speculate that the next poll will show a small increase for IMP, not quite the game changing stuff predicted.

Although Labour has languished in the polls, I think they will  start to increase their share of the vote as election day rolls near. If history is anything to go by, small party’s get lots of attention pre-election, but when it comes to  the crunch, votes are often cast in favour of the major party. Labour’s strategy appears to be: (i)  refuse to make an unequivocal statement about their relationship with IMP to plant some doubt, thereby (ii) avoiding any fallout if more adverse information is released about Dotcom, and (iii) claim to be standing on principles and for democracy by not gifting electorate seats. Come election time, they’ll have created just enough doubt to convince the voter that their vote is only guaranteed to count if cast for Labour and they wont have ruled out working with IMP (so the option remains open, if necessary). This is at least how I see Labour reclaiming the left. However, I’m not convinced (yet) it will translate into a win at this election.

Good Face, Bad Face

Trying to get a glimpse at who politicians really are is difficult at the best of times. But more so in an election year. We have their personal branding on the one hand and their often uncomplimentary actions on the other. Often, we resort to simply acknowledging and perpetuating the faults or flaws in those we dislike, while downplaying the negative aspects of those we preference.

We are exposed to many faces of the politicians depending on how charitable the writer is feeling, and this shapes our perceptions of these people. I have focused on the good and bad faces of David Cunliffe and John Key, because it is one of these two who will be running the country post-Election, afterall.

DAVID CUNLIFFE (Opposition Leader – Labour Party NZ)

The Good Face: the Harvard graduate, the man from humble beginnings, the man who will bring about unity in the Labour Party, the man who wants to ensure the opportunities he had are available for future generations. the man who will challenge the neoliberal consensus, The Union’ s choice, The Peoples’ Choice.

The Bad Face: the man who refused to confirm if a trust was used for his Labour Leadership campaign, the man who failed to disclose a savings investment trust, the man who divided the Labour Party and sought to undermine David Shearer, the man who embellished his CV (not an exhaustive list). Tricky.

JOHN KEY (PM, Leader of National Party NZ)

The Good Face:  the Harvard graduate, the foreign exchange expert, the man from humble beginnings and raised by his beneficiary solo-mother, the man concerned about the growing underclass developing in NZ, the genuine kiwi bloke, the man who can fix the economy.

The Bad Face: the man who treats ‘gay’ as a shallow insult, the man who sold out NZ for transnational corporations (Warner Bros, Anadarko, Rio Tinto), the man who likened our ‘clean green’ ‘100% pure’ image to McDonald’s ‘Lovin it’, the man who forgets everything and nothing,  the man whose Ministers (or ministries) have run amuck under his leadership such as ACC – privacy breaches, MSD – privacy breaches, Min Edu – NovoPay deabcle, GCSB – illegal spying etc, (not an exhaustive list). TricKey.

Fran O’Sullivan remarked on NZ Q + A, that the public are still trying to work out who Cunliffe is and what he stands for; but she says that Key has successfully translated who he is to the public. O’Sullivan seemed to presume that it was the ‘good face’ that the public sees or that Key is perceived of in favourable light, which is extremely questionable. A problem as identified in the introduction is that both leaders brands do not match their actions and I think that is the price of  power seeking in party politics.

National Party and Labour Party loyalists will respectively downplay the bad face and defend the good face of their leader to the death (not literally of course). So its important to be aware of how our perceptions are shaped by the media or information outlets we choose to expose ourselves to and the importance of digging a little deeper, especially in an election year.