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Cablegate: Maori Party Prospects Diminish in September

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




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2010


Classified By: Siria Lopez, Auckland Consul General,
for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)

(U) This cable originated from AmConGen Auckland. It
replaces and updates Wellington 661.

1. (C) Summary: Although the Maori Party has made
impressive gains in membership and general support in its
one year of existence, it is unlikely to capture all seven
Maori constituency seats in the September 17 election. Its
probable 3-5 constituency
seats would still make the Maori Party a potential
coalition partner, however. Maori leaders had been
insisting that it would be up to their followers to decide
on a coalition partner. But following an August 29 speech
by National Party leader Don Brash that called for an end
to separate Maori-oriented Government ministries, the Maori
party announced it had definitively ruled out a coalition
with National.

2. (C) Given that either Labour or National is likely to
need coalition partners to form a government, National's
announcement carries some risks. It seems more and more
that National has no natural coalition partner other that
NZ First, and a previous coalition with that party in the
1990s was not a success. But the Nats probably figure they
gain more from tapping into "middle New Zealand's"
unhappiness with Labour's preferential treatment of Maori
and other groups than it does from holding out for the
unlikely chance that Maori voters would choose a National-
Maori party coalition. As Labour has also tried to
distance itself from Maori party leadership, the Nats may
also be trying to play on some voters' fears that a Labour
victory would mean a leftist, Labour-Greens-Progressives-
Maori coalition. End Summary.

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Background: Maori Party Makes Electoral Registration
--------------------------------------------- --------------

3. (SBU) Maori anger over a perceived Labour Government
turnaround on Maori claims to New Zealand's foreshore and
seabed led to the creation of the Maori Party in July 2004
(reftel A). Since then the Maori Party has sought to
become the Maori voice in New Zealand's parliament. For
the September 2005 election, the Party will contest all
seven exclusively Maori constituency seats, as well as
other general electorate and list seats for a current total
of 51 candidates. Dr. Whatarangi Winiata is Maori Party
President but the party's most popular and visible figure
is co-leader (and former Labour Party member) MP Tariana
Turia. Turia will run against her Labour Party nephew for
the Te Tai Hauauru seat. Pita Sharples, an educator, is
the other party co-leader and is taking on the charismatic
but politically wounded Labour MP John Tamihere in Tamaki-

4. (SBU) Despite the odds against its survival -- and
Tamihere's predictions of its stillborn birth -- the Maori
Party has evolved into a real Maori political alternative
to Labour. Since its inception, the Party has managed to
sign up more than 19,000 new members through "flaxroots"
efforts, an impressive achievement. Notwithstanding, voter
numbers are more important than total card-carrying party
members. Under New Zealand's political system, Maori
citizens have the option of signing up for either the
general roll or the Maori electoral roll, which votes on
the seven Maori constituency seats (seats the National
Party has long pledged to abolish). Currently, 204,519
have enrolled on the Maori roll; 166,822 on the general
roll. This is a nearly 9% increase over 2002 figures for
both rolls. Of first-time enrollments, mainly younger
voters, 55 per cent are opting for the Maori roll. The
latter represents the fruits of the Maori Party's strategy
to focus registration efforts on first-time, younger voters
who lack a history of voting for Labour (reftel B).

5. (SBU) But what makes the Maori Party worth watching is
its potential as a coalition partner. It is widely assumed
that Turia will win her electorate seat. The Party is also
expected to capture other Maori constituency seats. Each
MP gained increases the party's legislative influence.
(NB: The Maori party would be allocated additional list
parliamentary seats if it gains more of a percentage of the
party vote than it meets with its electorate seats alone.
If the Party gets more electorate seats than party vote
share, it will keep those "overhang" seats until the next
election. This will affect the number of seats the major
parties would need to form a coalition.) Since neither
Labour nor National are expected to win clear majorities,
they will need parliamentary partners to form workable
governments. National Party's Don Brash's speech of August
29 in which he promised to review Maori-based government
agencies, however, have incited Turia and Sharples to spurn
National as a coalition partner. Despite the Maori Party's
birth as a
protest against Labour's foreshore and seabed legislation,
now that it has ruled out a coalition with National, Labour
is its only potential coalition partner.

Policies: Difficult to Assess

6. (C) From the start, the Maori Party has been
criticized for its lack of policy pronouncements. This
situation is little better in the immediate lead-up to the
September polls -- that is if a voter desires articulated
party platforms in the conventional, Euro-American sense.
In May, the Party did publicize the centerpiece of its
policies or "tikanga" but it actually consisted of
sweeping, idealistic guiding principles firmly based on
Maori socio-cultural values. One searches the "tikianga"
document in vain for the Party's position on taxes or
health care. For that, one must often rely on the ad hoc
emergence of specifics as uttered by party politicians on
the campaign trail. For example, we now know that the
Maori Party wants to lower the retirement age of Maori to
60, make tertiary education free for everyone and eliminate
tax for those earning under $25,000. It has also slowly
filtered out that the Party wants to make Maori language
compulsory for all civil servants, affirm Maori authority
on the national resource review process and reinstate New
Zealand's moratorium on genetically-modified plants.

7. (SBU) In terms of foreign policy, a Maori Party
representative, Charles Joe, spoke to a University of
Auckland audience mostly in the idealistic generalities of
the "tikanga" document. Perhaps because the audience was
non-Maori and the other party politicians present offered
specifics, Joe also confirmed that the party wanted NZ's
nuclear-free stance maintained, supported NZ's
international peacekeeping role and had a "no first-strike
policy." The Party also placed priority on the UN draft on
indigenous people and wanted an international treaty for
indigenous nations. As Turia has said in the past, Joe
added that his party would oppose any international
treaties or agreements that breached the principles
enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi. That is to say its
foreign and trade policies would be driven by adherence to
Maori values. (Note: The Maori Party has been accused of
refusing to criticize Robert Mugabe's regime simply because
he is a black African leader. The Party also opposed a
recent bill to strengthen NZ's anti-terrorism finance laws.
Still, it did support the rightist Federated Farmers in the
farmers' land access battle with Labour. End Note)

Election Prospects

8. (C) The Maori Party has been challenged from its
inception by the poverty of its core constituency.
Financially disadvantaged, the party has focused instead on
harnessing "people power" by drafting volunteers to go
door-to-door to drum up support. Labour's John Tamihere
told Auckland Consul General that the Maori Party's real
strength lies in the seductive, emotional appeal of its
message of grievance to relatively well-off, middle-class
Maori. As a result, it enjoys strong support from
influential Maori institutions such as Maori radio
stations, TV, university, language schools and health and
welfare organizations. This Maori infrastructure provides
the Party with its transport and information resource needs
and thus makes up for any ostensible lack of cash. Another
Maori political observer agreed that Maori institutions,
although funded under Labour governments, are "hotbeds" of
Maori Party support. She and Tamihere both observed that a
large Maori turnout in September will hurt Labour.
9. (SBU) Before the election date was announced, many
observers were predicting that the Maori Party would obtain
at least five constituency seats. In several polls, Maori
party candidates such as Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira
(for Te Tai Tokerau) were pulling way ahead of their Labour
rivals. Since then, however, some leads have narrowed;
Sharples is now running neck-to-neck with Tamihere (who
probably now prefers Labour Party money over Maori
institutional support). Harawira's lead over Labour's
Dover Samuels has almost halved. The Maori Party (and
Labour) is losing some votes with the entry of independent
candidates and those of Destiny New Zealand, a party allied
with a conservative Maori Christian church. (Destiny also
appeals to socially conservative Pacific Islanders, also
being courted by the Maori Party, who were upset by
Labour's prostitution and civil union bills.)

10. (SBU) Perhaps more influential than election rivals,
however, is the Labour tactic of scaring Maori by claiming
a vote for the Maori Party is a vote for National. This
message is being drummed into Maori and other left-leaning
voters. The Labour tactic is particularly effective on
those Maori concerned about National's threat to reduce
welfare benefits. Some Maori voters may try to reconcile
their divided loyalties by voting for the Maori Party for
constituency seats and ticking Labour for the party/ "list"

11. (SBU) Although it is also contesting 35 general
electorate seats in an effort to appeal to non-Maori, the
Party is not expected to win many, if any, of these seats.
The small size of the Maori electorate vote in general
means it will not obtain many list seats. A more realistic
scenario is that the Maori Party will win 3-5 Maori
constituency seats--but not 7. This result would still make
the Party a potential coalition partner for Labour or
National, notwithstanding the major parties' avowed
distaste for such an arrangement. In an August TV debate
with National's Don Brash, when asked about possible
Labour-Maori Party talks, PM Clark swatted the party off by
replying it was the "last cab in the rank." Brash more
tactfully said that he couldn't see cooperation happening.
Earlier, at a July Diplomatic Club lunch in Wellington,
Turia noted that the Maori Party had not offered itself as
a coalition partner, nor would it. But, she added, if
approached by one or more parties, it would put the issue
of which party to vote for and under what terms (e.g.
confidence and supply or a full coalition) to its voters.
As noted earlier, however, Brash's August 29 speech has
squashed, for now, speculation about National-Maori Party

Long-Term Goals: More Maori Constituency Seats and More
List Seats
--------------------------------------------- --------------

12. (C) Echoing Turia, co-leader Pita Sharples told
Consul General that the Maori Party was not going "hell for
bent" to be in the Government right now. The question of
coalitions does not loom large for the party. For the
September election, it was trying to get the Maori voice
heard in Parliament and to stand staunch on the Treaty of
Waitangi. If it succeeded in getting seven MPs in, this
would have the desired impact and momentum. Then, the
following year, the Party would undertake a national
campaign to move every Maori from the general to the Maori
rolls in order to increase the number of Maori constituency
seats. Thus, in a subsequent election, the Party could
enjoy, for example, fourteen seats in addition to general
electorate and list seats. It was with this long-term goal
in mind that the Party had decided to contest the general
electorates, go for the list vote and choose several non-
Maori election candidates of European and Pacific Island
descent. There is, Sharples declared, not much of a long-
term future for the Maori Party "if we are not inclusive
and if we have just Maori sitting there-we must go for all
of New Zealand."

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