A new political party aiming to represent Indian and other Asian immigrants ought to be welcomed by all New Zealanders. Our electoral system has been designed to give a voice to minorities. Oddly, the "People's Party" has not been welcomed by Winston Peters, an enthusiast for MMP who exploits its fragmented politics at every opportunity. "No country is going to progress if we have political parties accentuating their differences," he said, probably with a straight face.
The National and Labour leaders have been more circumspect. John Key said he was not surprised an immigrants' party had emerged, blaming Peters and Labour for making immigration a political target. Andrew Little rejected that charge, pointing out the People's Party had made it clear it was concerned about crime, not Labour.
Little is right and Key knows it. Mounting concern in immigrant communities about violent attacks on Indian and Chinese shops has prompted the Prime Minister to write on the subject for ethnic newspapers. Crime is felt particularly acutely by immigrants if it seems aimed at them and they do not yet have the confidence of New Zealanders in their police.
The Police have taken steps to build that confidence but there is nothing to match a voice in Parliament for giving any minority reassurance that it can assert its rights and see that its safety and property are protected.
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But getting into Parliament is a good deal harder than forming a party. The Prime Minister doubts the new party will get there since single-issue parties rarely succeed and it lacks a well-known leader.
The People's Party is hoping to make its appearance in the byelection that would be needed in Mt Roskill if the sitting member, Phil Goff, is elected Mayor of Auckland next month. Mt Roskill could be fertile ground for immigrants' votes but even there they are probably not enough to give the party a general seat. Asians now comprise 12 per cent of the population, a high proportion of them of voting age, so if they vote uniformly they have more than enough to cross the threshold for a proportional allocation of seats in Parliament.
But the National Party, for one, will be bidding keenly for their votes. Asians, particularly Indians, are a striking presence at National Party gatherings these days. National has an Indian-born immigrant ready to stand in Mt Roskill if the byelection eventuates.
The high level of immigration in recent years may be an issue waiting to erupt at an election but it would seem unlikely to do so in Mt Roskill. National has more to fear at the general election next year, especially if house price increases have not relented.
It is a daring move to form a distinct political party. Newcomers to a country are naturally unsure of their right to assert themselves in its decisions. They know there will be many like Peters, who calls it "an extraordinary demand". If they elect their own party it might confine itself to issues of particular concern to migrants. That would be a pity.
It is a strength of this country that it has a place in its politics for minorities and it is not for others to tell them how they are represented.