Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Labour has most to lose in byelection for Ikaroa-Rawhiti

Good turnout for winter byelection crucial for Horomia's party.

Clockwise from top left: Meka Whaitiri (Labour Party), Na Raihania (Maori Party), Marama Davidson (Green Party), Te Hamua Nikora (Mana Party)
Clockwise from top left: Meka Whaitiri (Labour Party), Na Raihania (Maori Party), Marama Davidson (Green Party), Te Hamua Nikora (Mana Party)

There are two good reasons elections are usually held in the warmer months. Voters are more likely to wander to the polling booth and campaigning is a more pleasant experience for the candidates.

Things are not so easy for the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection candidates, although Labour's campaign team took advantage of the stormy weather on Friday and Saturday by door knocking, knowing voters were likely to be at home.

It appears inevitable Labour's candidate, Meka Whaitiri, will win the seat. The bigger question is how the Mana and Maori parties will go against each other.

Much has been made of the byelection coinciding with the Maori Party's own existential crisis in the form of Tariana Turia's looming leadership handover and Te Ururoa Flavell's challenge of Pita Sharples.

None have denied that the uncertainty has handicapped its candidate Na Raihania.

Many see the byelection as an indicator of who is winning the power struggle between the Maori Party and Mana Party, although the candidates are like chalk and cheese.

Mana's Te Hamua Nikora has a showbiz background from hosting the Homai Te Pakipaki karaoke show on Maori TV and appeals to the younger voters.

Raihania is a steady figure who has spent his life working in the community and is more likely to appeal to older voters.

But some commentators have claimed that a resounding defeat in the byelection will effectively spell the end of the Maori Party as a whole.

Such conclusions have to be treated with caution, especially given the traditionally low turnout in byelections. The true test will be at the general election in 2014 and whether it will hold on to its three electorates rather than achieving a mission impossible in Ikaroa-Rawhiti.

Despite the expected result, Labour has a lot at stake in this byelection as well. It has to win well.

It has all the advantages over the other contenders. Turnout will be a critical factor - and Labour has a far larger party machinery to campaign for Whaitiri and get voters to the booths next Saturday. It has its organisations in the general electorates that span the same territory, and is using those to help in the campaign.

That is something neither Mana nor the Maori Party have. Labour also has more MPs to campaign for Whaitiri, helping raise her profile.

So it has more to lose from a bad result than the other parties, who entered not in the hopes of winning but rather to benefit from publicity and the chance of a pre-election profile boost for their parties.

The Green Party entering the contest is unlikely to erode Labour's support much, and the non-Labour vote has also been split between more contenders than ever before, which will serve to make its majority look larger than it really is.

The byelection will also help tell how much of its support in Ikaroa-Rawhiti was due to Horomia, rather than loyalty to the party.

Horomia snared about 60 per cent of the candidate vote in 2011 - but Labour also did well in the party vote, getting about 50 per cent in a year when it polled just 27 per cent nationwide.

What's happening

*Ikaroa-Rawhiti is a Maori electorate, created for the 1999 election.
*Electorate area includes Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, Masterton, Upper Hutt and Wainuiomata.
*A byelection is being held to find a replacement for Labour MP Parekura Horomia, who died in April.
*The byelection is this Saturday.

Comparing the candidates

On karakia [prayers/thanks/blessings] in state schools
Meka Whaitiri: support karakia in all our schools. The Americans have the Pledge of Allegiance before they start school. Karakia are not a ritual, not a religious thing, it's uplifting.
Marama Davidson: There is a difference between a religious prayer and a tikanga Maori prayer, so as far as I'm concerned, tikanga Maori protocols are appropriate.
Na Raihania: If we can incorporate simple elements like that it gives kids, teachers and parents a better understanding of who we are and what we stand for. It's a great thing to reflect and I think if we do that in the mornings, it allows us to take stock of ourselves.
Te Hamua Nikora: Absolutely. We'd like to see te reo as compulsory, but beyond that it's part of tikanga Maori. It's a lovely thing.

On mining and balance between jobs and the environment
Meka Whaitiri: Until we have some sound research that says [mining] doesn't have any environmental impact, I can't support that.
Marama Davidson: Ban it! Risky off-shore drilling, mining and fracking are all industries we want to get away from. Today we are releasing a package of green jobs for Ikaroa-Rawhiti that don't ruin our environment.
Na Raihania: I am absolutely opposed to mining and drilling our Mother Earth. And this idea it will provide jobs for everybody is stretching it.
Te Hamua Nikora: As far as mining goes, we say frack off. No thank you.

Which opponent do you respect most, and why?
Meka Whaitiri: Marama, because she's a mother of six kids. That right there requires respect. Te Hamua, he's funny but I'm waiting to hear more about Mana policies. And I have to say nice things about Na because I'm related to him.
Marama Davidson: Na Raihania because he loaned me some money when I left my handbag on the bus. He didn't hesitate to open his wallet and ask what I needed. I have a lot of respect for him as a person too.
Na Raihania: I give all of them credit for putting their hand up. We all are related, so it's hard to pick one or another in Maori politics.
Te Hamua Nikora: They're all lovely but our politics are much better.

On what their first member's bill would do
Meka Whaitiri: Making sure investment is not just about monetary return in the Maori economy, but looks at impact on the environment and working conditions.
Marama Davidson: I want to look really closely at protecting our abused children.
Na Raihania: I'd like to investigate the rights of the children a lot more. If we could get more help in the home to strengthen families.
Te Hamua Nikora: I'd like to see Matariki [the Maori New Year] given the status of a public holiday. It's important for us to be able to celebrate the beginning of our year.

Hero of the electorate, past or present
Meka Whaitiri: It has to be Parekura [Horomia].
Marama Davidson: We can't go past Parekura. He was loved up and down. Also Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, who helped lead deep-sea oil protests.
Na Raihania: It would have to be my Dad, Nolan Raihania. He's a gentleman, always has a kind word, looks to help others and he's been strong for me. He's one of the five left living in C Company.
Te Hamua Nikora: Parekura. He was the man who gave me relevance in Parliament. Before him, nobody looked like me, nobody walked like me, nobody talked like me. He's the man me and my generation followed very closely.

Biggest issue in the electorate
Meka Whaitiri: Jobs.
Marama Davidson: Jobs and protecting the environment and wanting jobs that don't ruin the environment.
Na Raihania: Mortality rates are high, education ... but employment, I guess, and our social status.
Te Hamua Nikora: Poverty, stemming from unemployment, and a lot of health issues coming from poverty and poor housing.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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