Maori Party to play key role in new Aotearoa center-right government

News Report
Ikaika M Hussey

May 2004: Campaigners converge on the Parliament building in Wellington to oppose the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The march marked the beginning of the Maori Party. Photography: Wikipedia Commons

New Zealand citizens voted on Saturday. And amid the election of a conservative prime minister, the Maori Party is now in a position where it can expect its demands to be met by Aotearoa/New Zealand's next government.

"There won't be a piece of legislation that can be passed without a Maori signatory to the treaty agreeing to it," party president Whatarangi Winiata said at a recent campaign rally. "This journey we have been on is starting to change our experience in our own country."

The Maori Party won five seats in the election, an increase in one seat from 2005.

Under Aotearoa's parliamentary system, the party that wins a majority in the national Parliament will form a government and choose the prime minister. No party has won a clear parliamentary majority in 12 years, forcing the leading political parties to forge coalitions with smaller parties to acquire sufficient votes to form a government. The conservative National party won 59 seats in this past Saturday's election, falling a few seats short of a majority in the 122-member Parliament. The libertarian Act Party won five seats, which it has pledged to National's 59 for a total of 64.

According to the New Zealand Herald, "National could rule with that alone but [National Party leader and new prime minister] Mr. Key wants his Government to be as broad-based as possible and is bringing in United Future leader Peter Dunne and the Maori Party, which won five seats in the election."

These three parties—National, Act, and Maori—would form a coalition of conservative and indigenous interests. The opposing coalition would be comprised of left-leaning forces—Labour, the Greens, and the Progressive Party.

Previously, the Maori Party was part of the opposition coalition, along with the National and Green parties.

Maori Party leaders released a statement following last Tuesday's U.S. election of Barack Obama: "We, in the Māori Party, are greatly buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm shown in the Obama campaign; and have felt uplifted by the magnificent turnout of everyday people, people who are proud to participate in the democratic process."

However, the right-center government the Maori Party is joining is very different from the left-center movement identified with Barack Obama. The National Party is analogous to the U.S. GOP, with an emphasis on tax cuts, crime, and small government.

The International Herald Tribune notes the rightward swing in New Zealand:

In nine years in power, [former Labour prime minister] Clark helped build New Zealand's reputation as one of the world's greenest and most socially progressive societies, based around the South Pacific nation's rugged landscape and strong indigenous Maori culture.

Key campaigned as a moderate, but his policies include plans to eventually abolish special parliamentary seats for Maori and making the country's greenhouse gas emission trading scheme more favorable to business.

A senior National Party official, Stephen Joyce, sought Sunday to allay fears that Key may have a hidden right-wing agenda—as Clark had alleged—saying he "will lead a centrist government" that would not be deflected into "economic extremism."

Key sought to address the issue in his victory speech late Saturday, saying: "You have my pledge: I will lead a government that serves the interests of all New Zealanders."

New mana
As part of the National-Act-Maori governing coalition, the Maori Party intends to use its recently-acquired leverage to advance indigenous political power.

Currently, there are seven parliamentary seats allocated for Maori individuals, which the National Party has said it plans to abolish. The Maori Party will seek to reverse National's position on these seats, according to the party's election policy.

The Maori Party will also seek reforms to assist working families affected by the global economic slowdown. And in a major push, the party will seek to abolish the Foreshore and Seabed Act, a controversial law pushed by the liberal government in 2004 to block Maori land claims over seashore areas.

Maori concern over the Foreshore and Seabed Act spurred a massive hikoi [march] across the country, converging on the Parliament building in May 2004. The Maori Party emerged out of the march, which was estimated at being 15,000 strong by the time it reached the capitol in Wellington.

Indigenous rights campaigners attempted to have the bill repealed in 2007, but neither the National or Labour parties supported such a move.

Final decisions about the negotiations between the Maori and National parties are expected to be reached by Sunday.