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Cablegate: New Zealand's New Maori Party Gains Traction

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000909

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/ANP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/31/2014
TAGS: PGOV PHUM NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND'S NEW MAORI PARTY GAINS TRACTION

REF: A. WELLINGTON 889

B. WELLINGTON 601
C. WELLINGTON 382

Classified By: Principal Officer, Siria Lopez, Reason 1.5 (b) and (d)

(U) This cable originated from AmConGen Auckland.

1. (U) Summary: Approximately four months after its
creation, the Maori Party has achieved more success than some
observers may have initially expected, due largely to anger
in Maori communities over the GoNZ's handling of proposed
foreshore and seabed legislation. For now, Labour seems to
have an unexpected rival for the important Maori vote, which
controls the outcome of seven Maori-designated Parliamentary
seats. Nonetheless, the Maori Party faces many serious
longer-term challenges, including voter apathy, institutional
support, funding and a strong Maori tradition of voting for
Labour. These challenges must overcome if it is to avoid
becoming just one more failed Maori party experiment in New
Zealand. End Summary.

2. (U) Approximately four months after its creation, signs
are that the Maori Party may not be the insignificant blip
some observers may have initially expected. (Most
prominently, Labour MP John Tamihere, a high-profile Maori,
vented against the Party, accusing it of being nothing more
than a brand name-- barbs that greatly aggravated Maori Party
leaders.) But it is not surprising that the Maori Party's
birth has been greeted with caution or outright skepticism.
Notwithstanding Maori disaffection, previous attempts at
establishing Maori-based political parties in New Zealand
have not been very successful. The three other Maori-based
political parties currently officially registered are
electorally insignificant or barely perceptible. Maori
voters, traditionally, prefer to give their support to the
Labour Party.

MMP ) WHY MAORI VOTES MATTER
----------------------------

3. (SBU) Under New Zealand's system of mixed-member
proportional voting, each voter has two votes ) one for an
electorate candidate, and one for a party. In addition,
Maori can choose to vote either on the general roll, or on
the Maori electoral roll, which votes on the seven
constituencies specially designated for Maori. The Maori
Party will focus on these Maori electorate seats first.
However, provided the Party retains Maori Party Co-Chairman
Tariana Turia,s seat, it will receive additional list (i.e.
Party) member seats in Parliament in relation to the
proportion of the vote ) i.e. at current polling of two
percent, the Maori Party could gain one or two additional
seats. Current polling for the 2005 election leaves neither
major party with a clear majority, meaning that the presence
of sympathetic coalition partners will be the deciding factor
for any government. The Maori Party is likely to vote
closely with Labour on supply and confidence issues, and
should the Maori Party win additional Maori seats and gain
list seats, it will amplify their influence as a possible
coalition partner.

CURRENT PARTY STANDING
----------------------

4. (U) What could make this latest attempt at establishing
a Maori-based party different from past attempts is Maori
anger over the seabed and foreshore issue (ref C). At the
end of April, Labour MP Tariana Turia bolted the party to
protest the Labour Government's perceived reversal on the
foreshore and seabed legislation. (Proposed legislation
grants Maori customary title versus full ownership, and has
been called by some a modern-day land grab.) In July Turia
stood in a by-election as a Maori Party candidate and won,
giving the new party parliamentary representation (ref A).
Party membership now reportedly stands at 6000. Recent polls
have it enjoying 2 per cent national support (translating
into 2 non-Maori seats if an election were held this month)
and five percent support in Auckland where many of New
Zealand's Maori live. The Party may also have a decent shot
at another Parliamentary slot if Tamihere, currently enmeshed
in a financial scandal, is forced into a by-election to
retain his Parliamentary seat (ref A.) If so, it is expected
that his Maori Party opponent, Dr. Pita Sharples, would give
him a good run for his money.

5. (C) If Maori disaffection over the foreshore and seabed
can be sustained and if Maori are prepared to channel these
negative feelings into positive support for their own
political vehicle, then the Party is likely to increase its
Parliamentary representation in the next general election.
If the party can find good candidates, many already believe
it is capable of taking all seven Parliamentary seats
currently reserved for Maori. Dr. Sharples, Maori Party
co-leader, confirmed to Consul General that candidate
selection is the Party's number one priority. The Party is
seeking out prominent persons, such as Maori Land Court Judge
Caron Wickliffe, to offer them the opportunity to run as
Party candidates (Note: Judge Wickliffe declined Sharples'
offer, however.)
LONG-TERM PROSPECTS?
--------------------

6. (C) Despite the initial traction the Maori Party has
gained, there are some very daunting challenges to its
longer-term viability. Two obvious problems are funding and
institutional support. Maori are a minority population and
their income levels are lower than those of non-Maori.
Already an early Maori Party fund-raiser planned for the
South Island had to be canceled due to lack of response.
Asked about the South Island, Dr Sharples sighed and told
Consul General it was "a mess." The South Island Maori
electorate, he noted, comprises Wellington with its Maori
urban middle-class and the entire South Island with its
non-urban, non-middle-class Maori. The Party has found it
difficult to establish branches there because of disparate
constituencies, spread-out population and the lack of
organizational discipline among Maori Party members. (NB:
The Maori seat boundaries are split to cover the entire
country. The South Island is home to only 10 percent of the
Maori population.)

7. (U) Maori political apathy is another significant
challenge. Maori feel less stake in the political process
and have lower levels of political participation than other
groups. At a political meeting on local elections in Manukau
City, the city with the largest Maori population in New
Zealand, Maori Party speakers noted that Manukau has the
lowest vote turnout for local government elections in the
country. Voter turnout among Maori and Pacific Islanders,
they said, was even lower.

8. (U) Ultimately, however, the Maori Party's biggest
challenge may be the Labour Party. When Maori do vote they
have traditionally voted for Labour. Maori have long
identified Labour as the party most sympathetic to their
concerns. Notwithstanding Maori feelings of betrayal over
Labour's position on the foreshore and seabed legislation,
they believe Labour still better represents their overall
interests than does, for example, the National Party. Those
more practical and realistic Maori question the value of
giving the Maori Party their vote when, as one Maori academic
put it, "the Governor General won't be asking them to form
the next government."

9. (C) Dr. Sharples told Consul General that in order to
address this problem, a Maori Party priority is to register
those Maori who have never registered to vote before. He
explained that most of these are young persons who do not
have a long history of supporting Labour. Thus, they should
be more easily persuaded to vote for the Maori Party.
Sharples seemed acutely aware of the difficulty in coming up
against the powerful Labour Party election machine. He said
he hopes Tamihere runs without Labour party backing if a
by-election should come to pass in Tamihere's electorate.
Under these circumstances, Sharples is confident he could
wrest the seat from Tamihere. Otherwise, "John may eat me up
and spit me out." "But," he added, "at least he'll get a
battle."

10. (C) Asked if the Maori Party plans to run candidates in
non-reserved seats in the 2005 general elections, Sharples
said yes but these are simply "ideas at this stage." He
indicated that the Party wants to focus on registering voters
for Maori electorates, where it has its best electoral
prospects. But the Party would consider running in those
general constituencies with large Maori populations.

COMMENT
-------

11. (C) Comment: In addition to the challenges to Maori
Party viability that are noted above, other potential
pitfalls include pressure from Maori extremist elements (held
at bay for now according to Sharples) and divisions along
tribal lines (a greater worry). Nonetheless, notwithstanding
some well-justified doubts, the Maori Party has done
respectably in a very short time. It has also put Labour on
notice that it may now have a rival for the Maori vote, a
vote that is fundamentally important to Labour and one that
has been long taken for granted. So the Maori Party appears
to have gotten off to a good start. Now it must establish
its significance and staying power as a rival to Labour for
the Maori vote.
Swindells

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