Māori seats

Māori seats

In New Zealand politics, the Māori Seats, a special category of electorate, give reserved positions to representatives of Māori in the New Zealand Parliament. That parliament first set up Māori Seats in 1867, after Britain established Westminster-style parliamentary government in New Zealand in 1852.


Māori seats operate much as do general seats, but have as electors people who are Māori or of Māori descent, and who choose to place their names on a separate electoral roll rather than on the "general roll". Māori electoral boundaries exist alongside the electoral boundaries used for general seats, thus every part of New Zealand simultaneously belongs both in a general seat and in a Māori seat.

Number of seats

For most of the period of separate Māori representation (from 1868 to 1996), four Māori seats existed (out of a total that slowly changed from under 80 to 99). They comprised:
# Eastern Māori
# Northern Māori
# Southern Māori
# Western Māori

With the introduction of the MMP electoral system after 1993, the rules regarding the Māori seats changed - today, the number of seats floats, meaning that the electoral population of a Māori seat can remain roughly equivalent to that of a general seat. In the first MMP vote (the 1996 election), the Electoral Commission defined five Māori seats:
# Te Puku O Te Whenua ("the belly of the land")
# Te Tai Hauauru ("the west side")
# Te Tai Rawhiti ("the east side")
# Te Tai Tokerau ("the north side")
# Te Tai Tonga ("the south side")

For the second MMP election (the 1999 election), six Māori seats existed:
# Hauraki
# Ikaroa-Rawhiti
# Te Tai Hauauru
# Te Tai Tokerau
# Te Tai Tonga
# Waiariki

The 2002 and 2005 elections had seven:
# Ikaroa-Rāwhiti
# Tainui
# Tāmaki Makaurau (roughly equivalent to greater Auckland)
# Te Tai Hauāuru
# Te Tai Tokerau
# Te Tai Tonga
# Waiariki

The 2008 election will also have seven:
# Hauraki-Waikato
# Ikaroa-Rāwhiti
# Tāmaki Makaurau (roughly equivalent to greater Auckland)
# Te Tai Hauāuru
# Te Tai Tokerau
# Te Tai Tonga
# Waiariki

While seven out of 69 (10 %) does not nearly reflect the proportion of New Zealanders who identify as Māori (about 15 %), many Māori choose to enroll in general electorates, so the proportion reflects fairly accurately the proportion of voters on the Māori roll.

For maps suggesting broad electoral boundaries, see selected links to individual elections at New Zealand elections.

Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has proposed the creation of an additional electorate, for Māori living in Australia, where there are between 115,000 and 125,000 Māori, the majority living in Queensland. [ [http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/425825/1385989 Sharples suggests Maori seat in Australia] , TVNZ, Oct 1, 2007. Retrieved Oct 15, 2007.]

Candidates for Māori electorates, 2008 elections

See Māori electorate candidates, 2008


Elections for Māori seats occur as part of New Zealand general elections but in the past such elections took place separately, occurring on different days (usually the day before the vote for general seats) and having different rules. Historically, less organisation went into holding Māori elections than general elections, and the process received fewer resources. At first, Māori seats did not even require registration for voting, although later rules changed this. New practices such as paper ballots (as opposed to casting one's vote verbally) and secret ballots also came later to elections for Māori seats than to general seats.

The authorities frequently delayed or overlooked reforms of the Māori electoral system, with Parliament considering the Māori seats as largely unimportant. The gradual improvement of Māori elections owes much to long-serving Māori MP Eruera Tirikatene, who himself experienced problems in his own election. For the election of 1951, the voting for Māori and general seats was held on the same day; and the last distinction had finally disappeared with the integration of general seats and Māori seats.

Party politics

As Māori seats originated before the development of political parties in New Zealand, all early Māori MPs functioned as independents. When the Liberal Party formed, however, Māori seats began to align themselves with the new organisation, with either Liberal candidates or Liberal sympathisers as representatives.

Since the Labour Party first came to power in 1935, however, it has dominated the Māori seats. For a long period this dominance owed much to Labour's alliance with the Ratana Church, although the Ratana influence has diminished in recent times. In the 1993 election, however, the new New Zealand First Party, led by the part-Māori Winston Peters - who himself held the general seat of Tauranga from 1984 to 2005 - gained the Northern Māori seat (per Tau Henare), and in the 1996 election New Zealand First captured all the Māori seats for one electoral term. Labour regained the seats in the following election in 1999.

A development of particular interest to Māori came in 2004 with the resignation of Tariana Turia from her ministerial position in the Labour-dominated coalition and from her Te Tai Hauauru parliamentary seat. In the resulting by-election on 10 July 2004, standing under the banner of the newly formed Māori Party, she received over 90 % of the 7,000-plus votes cast. The parties then represented in Parliament had not put up official candidates in the by-election. The new party's support in relation to Labour therefore remained untested at the polling booth.

The Māori Party aimed to win all seven Māori seats in 2005. A Marae-Digipoll survey of Māori-rollvoters in November 2004 gave it hope: 35.7 % said they would vote for a Māori Party candidate, 26.3 % opted for Labour, and five of the seven seats appeared ready to fall to the new party. In the election, the new party won four of the Māori seats. It seemed possible that Māori Party MPs could play a role in the choice and formation of a governing coalition, and they (surprisingly) conducted talks with the National Party. In the end they remained in Opposition.


The establishment of Māori seats came about in 1867 with the Māori Representation Act, drafted by Napier Member of Parliament (MP) Donald McLean. Parliament passed the Act only after lengthy debate. Many conservative MPs, most of whom considered Māori "unfit" to participate in government, opposed Māori representation in Parliament, while some of the more radical MPs (such as James FitzGerald, who had proposed allocating a third of Parliament to Māori) regarded the concessions given to Māori as insufficient. In the end the setting up of Māori seats separate from existing seats assuaged conservative opposition to the bill - conservatives had previously feared that Māori would gain the right to vote in general electorates, thereby forcing all MPs (rather than just four Māori MPs) to take notice of Māori opinion.

Before this law came into effect, no direct prohibition on Māori voting existed, but other indirect prohibitions made it extremely difficult for Māori to exercise their theoretical electoral rights. The most significant problem involved the property qualification - in order to vote, one needed to possess a certain value of land. Māori owned a great deal of land, but they held it in common, not under individual title, and under the law, only land held under individual title could count towards the property qualification. Donald McLean explicitly intended his bill as a temporary measure, giving specific representation to Māori until they adopted European customs of land ownership. However, the Māori seats lasted far longer than the intended five years, and remain in place today.

The first Māori woman MP was Iriaka Ratana, who succeeded her late husband Matiu Ratana in 1949.

Calls for abolition

Ever since the establishment of the Māori seats, periodic calls have arisen for their abolition. Even at the time of their origin, the seats aroused much controversy, and given their intended temporary nature, attempts to abolish them arose quickly. The reasoning behind these attempts has varied - some have seen the seats as an unfair or unnecessary advantage for Māori, while others have seen them as discriminatory and offensive.

In 1902, a consolidation of electoral law prompted considerable discussion of the Māori seats, and some MPs proposed their abolition. Many of the proposals came from members of the opposition, and possibly had political motivations - in general, the Māori MPs had supported the governing Liberal Party, which had held power since 1891. Many MPs alleged frequent cases of corruption in elections for the Māori seats. Other MPs, however, supported the abolition of Māori seats for different reasons - Frederick Pirani, a member of the Liberal Party, said that the absence of Māori voters from general seats prevented "pākehā members of the House from taking that interest in Māori matters that they ought to take". The Māori MPs, however, mounted a strong defence of the seats, with Wi Pere depicting guaranteed representation in Parliament as one of the few rights Māori possessed not "filched from them by the Europeans". The seats continued in existence.

Just a short time later, in 1905, another re-arrangement of electoral law caused the debate to flare up again. The Minister of Māori Affairs, James Carroll, supported proposals for the abolition of Māori seats, pointing to the fact that he himself had successfully won the general seat of Waiapu. Other Māori MPs, such as Hone Heke Ngapua, remained opposed, however. In the end, the proposals for the abolition or reform of Māori seats did not proceed.

Considerably later, in 1953, the first ever major re-alignment of Māori electoral boundaries occurred, addressing inequalities in voter numbers. Again, the focus on Māori seats prompted further debate about their existence. The government of the day, the National Party, had at the time a commitment to the assimilation of Māori, and had no Māori MPs, and so many believed that they would abolish the seats. However, the government had other matters to attend to, and the issue of the Māori seats gradually faded from view without any changes occurring. Regardless, the possible abolition of the Māori seats appeared indicated when they did not appear among the electoral provisions "entrenched" against future modification.

In the 1950s the practice of reserving seats for Māoris was described by some politicians as "as a form of 'apartheid', like in South Africa". ["In the 1950s and 1960s the National government occasionally talked of abolishing the Maori seats. Some politicians described special representation as a form of 'apartheid', like in South Africa." [http://www.elections.org.nz/study/history/maori-vote.html "History of the Vote: Māori and the Vote"] , Elections New Zealand website, April 9 2005. Retrieved November 3, 2006.]

In 1976, Māori gained the right for the first time to decide on which electoral roll they preferred to enrol. Surprisingly, only 40 % of the potential population registered on the Māori roll. This reduced the number of calls for the abolition of Māori seats, as many presumed that Māori would eventually abandon the Māori seats of their own accord.

When a Royal Commission proposed the adoption of the MMP electoral system in 1986, it also proposed that if the country adopted the new system, it should abolish the Māori seats. The Commission argued that under MMP, all parties would have to pay attention to Māori voters, and that the existence of separate Māori seats marginalised Māori concerns. Following a referendum, Parliament drafted an Electoral Reform Bill, incorporating the abolition of the Māori seats. Both the National Party and Geoffrey Palmer, Labour's leading reformist, supported abolition; but most Māori strongly opposed it. Eventually, the provision did not become law: the Māori seats came closer than ever to abolition, but survived.

The ACT Party and the National Party have each advocated abolition of the separate seats. New Zealand First also advocates abolition of the separate seats but says that the Māori voters should make the decision.

Balance of Power

More recently with New Zealand First leader Winston Peters coming under fire after allegations surrounding use of the political donations, the National Party has made it clear that they would not consider New Zealand First as a coalition partner meaning that the Māori Party will pay a pivotal role in the upcoming New Zealand general election. In 2005 Prime Minister Helen Clark referred to the Maori Party as the "last cab off the rank" [cite web|url=http://www.stuff.co.nz/4661477a25482.html| title=Real chance for Māori Party to hold balance of power - Fox |accessdate=2008-06-09 |publisher=Dominion Post] and in a significant turn a senior National Party MP was quoted as saying "when it comes to looking for partners in Government, the Maori Party is no longer the last cab off the rank. The Māori Party now owns the rank" [cite web|url=http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10530795&pnum=2 | title=John Armstrong: Key move puts Māori Party in the box seat |accessdate=2008-06-09 |publisher=New Zealand Herald]

ee also

*New Zealand elections
*Māori politics


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