Could an alliance between the Mana and Maori parties determine who forms the next government?

Everyone is talking about Winston Peters being the kingmaker at the next election. But if current developments continue, a unified Maori political movement could well win the Maori seats, and potentially be the difference between Labour or National governing. Certainly, fascinating things are happening in Maori parliamentary politics at the moment. Although it all looks rather opaque, with unusual statements from the Maori King and arguments about Maori voter and party allegiances, there is an unden24-08-2016 18:08:17iable shift occurring in Maori politics.

And so, an upcoming reordering or realignment of Maori politics could be on the cards in time for the 2017 general election. Maori voters - especially in the Maori seats - might well face a very different electoral landscape to that of the past. Will this include a single Maori party, or an accommodation between the existing main players? It's hard to forecast at this stage - but one of those options looks likely.

The King's speech

MP Hone Harawira. Photo / Brett Phibbs
MP Hone Harawira. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The latest indication giving weight to a potential new force came in the Maori King's remarkable and unprecedented speech this week, in which he declared he would no longer vote Labour and wished to see some sort of re-united Maori party. For the best single news item covering this, see Mihingarangi Forbes' Maori King gives nod to Mana/Maori parties. As Forbes states, "It is an unusual move for the Maori Monarch to personally back a political movement".

She quotes the King's speech: "It really hurt me when the leader of the Labour Party said he couldn't work with the Māori Party, you know I'm not voting for them any more". Instead of backing the traditional party of Maori voters, the King threw his weight behind - not just the Maori Party - but also Hone Harawira, saying "Hone has the strength to fight what he wants for, he's got the loyalty of the people he represents".

The speech appeared to be a deliberate part of plans to push Harawira's Mana Party and Marama Fox and Te Ururoa Flavell's Maori Party together. There seems to be a lot of movement behind the scenes to make this happen. For example, influential Maoridom insider Willie Jackson is also, no doubt, playing a role in bringing the parties together. He's always been scrupulously close to both of the parties and acted as a liaison between them. Therefore it's telling that when Morgan was elected as president, Jackson heralded this in his column: Tuku Morgan's appointment a game-changer in Maori politics. Jackson says "put your money now on some type of accord" between the parties at the next election, and "there will be deals done in most of the Māori seats which will benefit both parties." He also has strong advice about Morgan for the current Maori Party MPs: "if the leaders of the Māori Party Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox have any sense they will do well to follow his direction and leadership."

An independent vehicle for Maori

Marama Fox. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Marama Fox. Photo / Glenn Taylor

The Maori King's recent political intervention is being interpreted as just anti-Labour (and therefore welcomed by John Key and others on the right). But it's more than this - it relates to the long-term desire of many within Maoridom to have one single Maori party. And that might well even benefit Labour in the end, even if it meant losing seats to such a political force. After all, under MMP the loss of seats to an ally isn't always bad news at all.

But could the two existing Maori parties really work together? It's likely that in facing the prospect of political extinction, both parties' minds are focused on how they might survive. Both are looking at the very real prospect of electoral annihilation if they don't find a new way forward. Some of this was discussed in depth in an important Waatea 5th Estate debate and discussion between Hone Harawira and Marama Fox - watch: The importance of an independent Maori Political voice with Marama Fox & Hone Harawira. In this, Harawira argued in favour of electoral deals between the parties to avoid competing in the seven Maori electorates.

Other signs of the emerging alliance can be seen in Claire Trevett's Maori Party and Mana rule out alliance. She reports: "informal talks between Harawira and Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox recently after which Fox said they had agreed not to try to undermine each other but to focus on winning seats back from Labour. Both parties are understood to be considering whether to come to a deal in some of the Maori seats to enhance the chances."

And commenting on this, Mana Party insider Martyn Bradbury blogs: Claire Trevett catches up with TDB - how the Mana movement-Maori Party MOU would work. In this, Bradbury points out how a cooperation deal might work: "Mana and the Maori Party would both run party lists, but would agree to only run one electorate candidate in each Maori electorate. Their combined totals would swamp every Labour Party candidate. With coat tailing, Mana and the Maori Party could bring in a combined total of 5 MPs, that's a block that could have a huge impact in the 2017 election."

The role of Tuku Morgan

Tuku Morgan. Photo / NZ Herald
Tuku Morgan. Photo / NZ Herald

There is no doubt that Tukuroirangi (Tuku) Morgan has been crucial to recent developments in Maori parliamentary politics - as stated in Newstalk ZB's Tuku Morgan credited for King Tuheitia's endorsement.

There are various views on whether Morgan's role is appropriate, and in fact whether the Maori King should even be intervening in politics. According to Audrey Young Winston Peters is particularly unhappy about Morgan's role: "Winston Peters says King Tuheitia is being used by adviser Tukoroirangi Morgan to get involved in domestic party politics and he should remain neutral" - see: King Tuheitia should remain above party politics says Winston Peters.

Peters is also reported as believing that "Tuku Morgan's track record is not a great one", and he's stated: "Anyone who had the idea that Tuku's new position in the Maori Party is going to help them just found out how bad the appointment was." Of course, Morgan is a former New Zealand First MP, having been elected in 1996, before defecting from Peters' party when his coalition government with National broke up.


A blow to the Labour Party

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta. Photo / George Novak
Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta. Photo / George Novak

The Maori King's speech is clearly a blow to the Labour Party, and in particular to its Maori MPs. Nanaia Mahuta, the local Hauraki Waikato MP, is a relative of the King, and will be especially hurt by his statements and by any concerted attempt by the Maori parties to combined their forces against her. But could Mahuta and Labour lose Hauraki-Waikato at the next general election? Carrie Stoddart-Smith gives her verdict in her blog post, Unseating Labour. She says: "There is no question that Nanaia Mahuta has served her constituents and her Kiingitanga whānau respectably as the Hauraki-Waikato electorate MP for the Labour Party. However, the contest will not be between the candidates who stand in the seats. The real contest will be behind closed doors, between Labour and the Māori Party. The outcome dependent on which of them can secure the support and influence of King Tuheitia."

But according to Waatea News, "Labour MP Louisa Wall says the Maori king's slap in the face for her party and his local MP is unlikely to have any political impact" - see: King's call misses political reality.

There's also some talk of Mahuta departing from parliamentary politics to become the the next Maori Queen, but this is rejected by the Labour MP - see Rosanna Price's 'It's a beautiful thing': Nanaia Mahuta encourages Maori to wear moko with pride.

There is also some dissent from within about whether the Maori King was actually correct about Labour not being willing to work with the Maori Party: "Labour MP Peeni Henare says the Maori King has got it wrong about Andrew Little not wanting to work with the Maori Party. Henare, in line to succeed his father as an adviser to the throne, said King Tuheitia's claims in a speech on Sunday that Labour's leader had dismissed working with the Maori Party aren't true" - see: Jo Moir's Maori King's claims Andrew Little won't work with Maori Party wrong: Labour.

The impact on the 2017 general election

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Greg Bowker

Tuku Morgan is upfront about his plans to have the Mana and the Maori parties working together to decide the next government. He told Richard Harman that "I make no secret about it; that's the agenda" - see: What the new Maori Party President really wants. In this article, Harman reports: "Morgan is determined that the party should win enough seats at the next election to hold the balance of power. Though he readily concedes that Mana Party Leader, Hone Harawira, has a different way of looking at some issues, he believes Mana and the Maori Party can work together to take Maori seats off Labour and hold the balance of power."

There will be a number of seats at play according to this article: "If it gets the extra seats, and that will depend on how many Mana are willing to stand aside for it in, then it could complicate the post-election Government formation process because Morgan will find himself having to negotiate with Harawira and Key and Little. But he would surely say that anything is worth doing if it can advance Maori."

According to Richard Harman, the emerging alliance is likely to be bad for Labour: "Not only would the loss of any of the seats make it harder for Labour to get anywhere near enough seats to form a Government but if two or three of the seats went to the Maori Party in a tight election they could give National the choice of either NZ First or the Maori Party as a coalition party in the next Government" - see: Maori King upsets Winston's plans. He says that "Morgan's strategy makes a lot of sense", but "what will please National is that is increasingly looking likely that the Maori Party might give them an option which would mean they could exclude Peters and NZ First."

Some believe the King's attacks on Labour could backfire according to the Kiwipolitico blog site - see: Many waka, one star to guide them: The Maori Party as a vehicle for Maori politics.

But surely Labour stands a very good chance of being the benefactor if such a realignment eventuates. After all, it would push the existing Maori Party towards the left, and the party's own strategic future is probably better served by a stint of time propping up the Labour Party, which might prevent the party being permanently type-cast as a National-aligned force.

But could the Mana component of the alliance actually win any seats? Willie Jackson predicts that Harawira would have a very good chance against Kelvin Davis in his old Te Tai Tokerau seat, and that Davis: "knows he could be in trouble. He only beat Harawira last time because just about everything went his way. Not only did the Māori Party run a candidate in the seat which split Harawira's vote, but it seemed like ninety nine percent of the country had turned on Harawira" - see: Tuku Morgan's appointment a game-changer in Maori politics.

Finally, the Maori Party's co-leader Marama Fox seems to be emerging as the new face of Maori politics - and for three recent profiles on her, see Karl du Fresne's Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox - interview, Anthony Hubbard's National Portrait: Marama Fox, and Claire Trevett's Marama Fox - Te Fox in the Beehive.