By-election this Saturday in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti

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Voters in the New Zealand electorate of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti go to the polls this Saturday to elect their local MP after the death of Labour’s Parekura Horomia in April.

Ikaroa-Rāwhiti is one of seven Māori electorates in New Zealand. In addition to the 63 “general” electorates, a parallel map is drawn with seven Māori seats that cover the entirety of the country.

Every five years, voters with Māori heritage have an opportunity to choose whether they belong to the Māori roll or the general roll, and then electorates are drawn so that all Māori and general seats have equal populations. This process is currently taking place, and will be followed by a redistribution before the 2014 general election.

In addition, of course, voters cast a second ‘party vote’, and these votes are used to elect a further fifty list MPs who represent the entire country.

Ikaroa-Rāwhiti covers the east coast of the North Island, stretching from the Hutt Valley in the south to Gisborne in the north.

The seat has been held by Horomia, a prominent and popular Labour MP, since before the split in the Māori community over the foreshore and seabed legislation in 2004 led to the establishment of the Māori Party.

The Māori Party won four of seven Māori seats in 2005, then five in 2008, before losing one to Labour in 2011 and losing another due to an MP splitting off and forming his own Mana Party.

There is speculation that the performance of either of the two Māori-based parties could have been held down by Horomia’s presence, and could see either the Māori Party or the Mana Party win the seat at the by-election.

Labour won a comfortable lead in the seat in the party votes, with 49% of the vote. This, however, does not necessarily indicate that voters would be unwilling to vote for another party’s candidate in the electorate. In two of the Māori Party’s electorates, Labour won over 40% of the party vote in 2011 while losing the electorate vote.

Labour are considered to be the favourites, but the Māori Party has a strong presence and could be a contender. The left-wing Mana Party is running prominent television presenter Te Hamua Nikora.

This by-election will be rather unusual, due to the nature of the Māori electorates. Seven general electorates lie at least partly within Ikaroa-Rāwhiti – this means that the vast majority of those resident in the territory of the electorate being contested are not eligible to vote in the electorate – including many Māori residents.

This is the first in a series of posts in the lead-up to next year’s New Zealand general election – I am planning to expand the scope of the blog to include a similar guide to the New Zealand election as I have been doing for Australian elections – I’d be interested to know what things people are interested in seeing in such a guide.

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