November 2017 Māori Law Review

“Ma Pango, Ma Whero…” – Māori campaigning and voting in the 2017 General Election

The Māori whakatauki, “mā pango, mā whero ka oti te mahi” usually refers to different peoples or groups cooperating and combining efforts to achieve their goals.

In this article Dr Maria Bargh examines three aspects of the 2017 general election and asks whether strategies of cooperation were, or were not, used in election campaigning to achieve political ends and whether those proved successful. Secondly, the article considers the campaigns of three Māori candidates standing in general electorate seats and the different strategies they used with varying degrees of success. Finally, Dr Bargh turns to the government media campaign to increase Māori voter turnout and consider whether there were any significant differences in the 2017 turnout.

Dr Maria Bargh is Tumuaki/Head of School at Te Kawa a Māui/School of Māori Studies, Victoria University of Wellington. She is a Senior Lecturer in the School. Her research interests focus on Māori politics including constitutional change and Māori representation, voting in local and general elections, and the Māori economy. She also researches on matters related to Māori resources.


In this article I examine three key aspects of the 2017 general election from a Māori politics perspective.

First I examine the campaigning in the Māori electorates which was relatively aggressive compared to previous elections. I explore the strategies and tactics of particularly the Labour and Māori parties. I ask which strategies proved to be most successful and what challenges and issues within Māori communities were being reflected in Māori responses to campaigning and party policies.

Secondly I consider the campaigns of three Māori candidates standing in general electorates seats and the different strategies they used with varying degrees of success.

I turn finally to the government media campaign to increase Māori voter turnout and consider whether there were any significant differences in the 2017 turnout.

Campaigning in the Māori Electorates

The results of the 2017 General Election indicate that there continues to be a strong ‘First Past the Post’ way of thinking in New Zealand. That is, both Labour and National exhibited a desire to govern alone rather than to seek coalition arrangements. The way that Labour and National campaigned, particularly in the later stages of the campaign, manoeuvred to target party and electorate votes rather than support minor parties to become part of a coalition.

There is no requirement on larger political parties to support smaller parties however the likelihood of ‘governing alone’ in an MMP environment is unlikely which would seem to suggest that some alliances or collaborative arrangements would be beneficial.[1] Labour and National appeared to reject that strategy and sought to try to reach the numbers to govern alone.

Although it is difficult to draw a causal link between any one event during an election campaign and an election outcome, the strategy of the two larger parties certainly had particular consequences for their potential allies, with the Mana and Māori parties not being returned to Parliament and the Green Party having a significant reduction in its support base.

Early in 2017, well before the official election campaign period began, the Labour Party made it abundantly clear that it had no desire for alliances in the Māori seats and aimed to win them all. Not only were Labour aiming to win them all. The party also made it clear that it would aim to eliminate the Māori Party rather than seek any kind of amicable or polite campaign in the Māori electorates.

This approach resembled a zero-sum game mentality. In economics, a zero-sum game stipulates that “a positive pay-off for one player implies a negative pay-off (of equal absolute value) for the other player.”[2]

In electorates, such as the Māori electorates, where only two main candidates tend to exist, a zero-sum game message is more easily communicated. Between 1943 and 1975 only the National and Labour parties contested the Māori electorates.

An electoral system of proportional representation is meant to act as a solution to other adversarial electoral systems in which zero-sum games are a reality. However, the Labour party tactic clearly outlined that it would only contemplate one winner and no arrangements which might provide multiple ‘winners’.

The decision by incumbent Labour MPs in the Māori electorates to not stand on the Labour party list was a tactic designed to demonstrate to voters in those electorates that no deals were being made by Labour. Nanaia Mahuta argued the strategy indicated to voters that there were no “two-for-one” deals and that people who wanted to vote for these candidates had to vote for the party too.[3]  It increased the pressure on the candidates in Māori electorates to campaign hard or face the risk of not being returned to Parliament at all.

This kind of strategy was a clear example of zero-sum game thinking and a return to ‘first-past-the-post’ strategies where the goal remains for one party to attempt to govern alone. In contrast, an MMP political system almost by definition should require political parties to form coalition governments.[4]

Late in the campaign, when Kelvin Davis was announced as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party he was compelled by Labour party rules to have his name placed on the list and pressure was mounted by Mana party leader Hone Harawira and others for a ‘two-for-one’ deal, but that was once again refused by Labour.[5]

A key part of the Labour Party approach to their negative campaign against the Māori Party was to emphasise the Māori party’s connection to the National Party and accuse the Māori party of not genuinely being a kaupapa Māori party working in the best interests of all Māori. This was a complex argument which received a mixed response. Andrew Little began the tone of this part of the Labour campaign by accusing the Māori Party of not being truly kaupapa Māori and having “conceded on every important issue affecting Māori in the last nine years”.[6] He went on to explain that the limitations of the Māori party and their kaupapa Māori was their relationship agreement with the National Party and of having only two MPs in Parliament. These were quite striking comments from someone who is not themself part of a kaupapa Māori political party, and who is not a specialist in Māori matters. Māmari Stephens remarked on the narrow definition that Little must have been using to justify his comments.[7] Stephens took issue with Little’s suggestion that to be truly kaupapa Māori a political party would need to win “battles in Parliament on every important issue affecting Māori” and that,

  1. No Māori affiliated with the National Party can ever claim to come from a base of kaupapa Māori.
  2. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in terms of policy victories.
  3. Kaupapa Māori can only ever be measured in the strength of the loudest voice proclaiming it.
  4. Kaupapa Māori can only be exercised in regards to issues directly affecting Māori.[8]

She also provided examples of the sustained nature of the negative campaigning Labour had been engaged in, where the Māori Party had been described by members of the Labour Māori caucus as “Lap-dogs, little helpers, nodding-head dogs…”[9] She concluded that the notion of kaupapa Māori had been “weaponised” in the election campaign and did not benefit Māori voters.

Labour candidates won all the Māori electorates so their campaign clearly resonated with many voters.

The challenge when analysing the campaign and voting however is trying to distinguish which part of that success was a result of the leadership change and the “Jacindamania” that influenced the overall election results.[10] Polling in the Māori electorates is not conducted in the same systematic and consistent way that it is in general electorates making it difficult to assess the changes before and after the Labour leadership and deputy leadership change. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the leadership change provided a significant increase to all Labour candidates and their ability to communicate a message of change.

In contrast to the Labour Party’s zero-sum game campaign in Māori electorates, the Māori Party worked to actively create alliances and relationships with other groups. One could argue that this was reminiscent of kaupapa and tikanga Māori in that it sought to foster relationships and promoted cooperative and non-zero-sum game behaviours.

The Māori Party entered into two formal arrangements and one informal arrangement with other political groups in the lead up to the election. These arrangements were mainly led by Māori Party president Tukuroirangi Morgan who began the role in July 2016.[11]

In February 2017 the Mana and Māori parties announced a Kawenata in which the Māori party agreed not to stand a candidate in the Tai Tōkerau electorate and the Mana party agreed not to stand candidates in any other Māori electorate.[12] The two parties had, in previous elections, taken votes from each other’s support base. This agreement was a practical avenue to try to ensure both parties would be returned to Parliament. On the face of it this agreement did appear to provide more benefit to the Mana Party as it was unclear if the party had the resources, including candidates, to stand in all Māori electorates in 2017.

The move was also possibly in part a response to the Labour party’s aggressive attack on the Māori party mentioned above.[13]

Ultimately this strategy did not produce the results the Māori and Mana parties anticipated. In the Waiariki electorate, this was particularly apparent and was one of the key factors which led to the Labour candidate winning. In 2014 the Māori party candidate Te Ururoa Flavell received 45.56% of the vote, the Labour candidate (Rawiri Waititi) 27.34%, and Mana candidate (Annette Sykes) 27.09% of the vote.[14] In 2017, without a Mana candidate splitting the vote, the Labour candidate (Tamati Coffey) received 53.74% of the vote and the Māori Party candidate (Te Ururoa Flavell) received 46.26%.[15]



Two other factors should be noted as contributors to Coffey’s win; an increased turnout from a younger demographic (18-29 year olds) which Coffey appealed to, and anecdotal evidence suggests some prominent Mana members encouraged people to vote for Labour in contravention of the Mana-Māori Party Kawenata.


In June the Māori Party announced that it would have another Kawenata partnership whereby One Pacific Party candidates would stand for the Māori Party.[16]  The One Pacific Party explained that the Kawenata contained two key elements which they had not experienced or seen with other political parties. The first was that through the Kawenata, One Pacific were able to assist in developing Pacific policy which could be “heard through the Māori party manifesto”[17]. The second element was that they were able to nominate their “own Pacific leaders as candidates for the Māori Party”.[18] Six candidates were named mostly in the Auckland region. None of the One Pacific Party candidates were elected or came close to being elected.[19]

The Kawenata with One Pacific and the selection of another non-Māori candidate Wetex Kang in Botany, represented a significant divergence for the Māori Party from its previous stated identity but drew little attention from the media or voters. When the Māori Party first entered Parliament in 2005 the co-leaders described the party as a ‘Māori voice’ and ‘Treaty partner’ in Parliament. In more recent years the party was described as being “neither left nor right, just Māori”.[20] The Māori Party constitution illustrates the foundations of the party as firmly based in a Māori worldview. When the Mana party fielded non-Māori candidates in 2011 and 2014, that was one of the features that distinguished it from the more singular Māori voice of the Māori Party. It is unclear whether the wider Māori Party membership viewed the selection and incorporation of non-Māori candidates as a permanent broadening of the Māori party philosophy or whether it was a more temporary move and confined to a strategy being pursued by the party President alone.

The selection of non-Māori candidates went largely uncommented on by the media or voters and the Māori party avoided a potential media nightmare, and possible xenophobic attacks on their one candidate with Malaysian and Chinese heritage, when Wetex Kang was accused mid-campaign of possible election fraud. Complaints were laid with the Electoral Commission that Kang had distributed ‘red envelopes’ which in Chinese traditions relate to providing good luck and support including through monetary donations. Kang and Tukuroirangi Morgan refuted the claims and Kang was cleared by the Electoral Commission on 12 September.[21]

The Māori party also forged an informal arrangement with Kiingi Tuheitia, the leader of the Kingitanga movement. In 2016, Kiingi Tuheitia commented publically, in an unscripted part of a speech, that he supported the Māori Party.[22] In his speech at the Koroneihana (Coronation) celebrations in August 2017, Kiingi Tuheitia again reiterated his support for the Māori Party and expressed the desire for the Kingitanga to continue being involved in national politics.[23] This open expression of support for a particular political party was met with some criticism, including from Labour politician Nanaia Mahuta who has held the Tainui then Hauraki/Waikato electorate since 2002.[24] It was not clear from the outside whether the entire Kingitanga endorsed Kiingi Tuheitia’s moves or indeed whether the Māori party membership endorsed the arrangement or whether it was again a strategy being pursued more solely by the party President with Tuheitia individually.

Another significant connection that the Māori party had fostered since entry into Parliament which had the potential to benefit them during the election campaign, but which did not constitute a formal alliance, was the with Iwi Chairs’ Forum. Over its time in Parliament the Māori Party established and fostered strong links with the Iwi Chairs’ Forum and sought to play a facilitative role to link the Forum and government ministers. In turn the Iwi Chairs’ Forum engaged with the Māori Party on policy and legislative amendments and working groups within government ministries and helped to communicate some Māori Party policies such as the proposed Māori land law reforms at regional meetings.[25] The exact nature of the relationship is not clear as the Iwi Chairs’ Forum governance and accountability processes are not entirely transparent.[26] In 2010, lawyer Annette Sykes raised concerns about the lack of transparency relating to the links between the Iwi Chairs Forum and the Māori Party and called for more information about how decisions are made and how Forum members are accountable to their iwi.[27] The Iwi Chairs’ Forum has not publicly responded to Sykes’ concerns. Many of the processes she criticised remain the same.

A number of key figures in the Iwi Chairs’ Forum have also been key figures in the Māori Party. Naida Glavish was Māori Party president 2013-2016 and was co-Chair of the Whānau Ora Iwi Leaders Group. Tukuroirangi Morgan who became Party president subsequently was previously the Tainui representative on the Iwi Chairs Forum when he was Chair of Tainui Te Arataura. Rahui Papa who was the Māori Party candidate for Hauraki/Waikato was previously the Tainui representative on the Iwi Chairs’ Forum.

Given the extensive attempts by the Māori Party to build relationships and cooperative strategies we might ask; why were they not returned to Parliament? One explanation is that voters were caught up in “Jacindamania” as previously mentioned. Another explanation is that many within the Māori electorates were dissatisfied with contentious legislative amendments that the Māori party had supported, such as the reform of Māori land law in Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill. Finally, the notion of the Māori party as a “docile body” for National appears to have resonated.[28] The Māori party may have inadvertently reinforced this notion with their campaign message about being ‘at the table’ with National. Unfortunately the metaphor of sitting at a table with others subtly implies a level of friendship and cooperation rather than a strong and distinct independent identity and policy agenda. Andrew Little’s comments about the Māori Party also indicate that the party was blamed for a range of government decisions and wider economic matters over which they had no control.

Māori campaigning in general electorates

The 2017 election campaign showed an increased visibility of Māori standing as candidates in general electorates. Possibly the increased visibility came as a result of the increased attention to Māori issues throughout the election. Each candidate used unique forms of campaigning. In Pakuranga, Carrie Stoddart-Smith’s campaign focussed on “connecting culture, commerce and community”.[29] Stoddart-Smith emphasised her experience as a business analyst to appeal in the safe National seat and had her name written in Chinese on her promotional material to appeal to the significant Chinese minority in the electorate. Stoddart-Smith stood in the electorate because she lives there with her family, is from Ngāti Whātua and Ngā Puhi and could champion an awareness of the local issues. Pakuranga is a safe National seat with Maurice Williamson holding it from 1987 until he retired at the end of the term in 2017. He was succeeded by National candidate Simeon Brown.

In the East Coast electorate, Kiritapu Allan managed to reduce incumbent Anne Tolley’s winning margin significantly by working across multiple campaign platforms. Allan received 33.88% of the vote, where in 2014 the Labour candidate received 29.39%, an increase of 4.49%. Allan used Facebook and Instagram and travelled the electorate with a caravan. She posted ‘Coastie Chats’ video clips on Facebook and then to YouTube which allowed people to send her questions to answer.[30] Many of the questions raised with Allan related to general information about the operations of New Zealand’s political system. Allan also held informal chat sessions at her house for people to ask questions.

The social media campaign strategies Allan used were more likely to have appealed to younger voters and there was an increase in turnout in the electorate of 18-24 and 25-29 year olds. Allan shifted a previously safe (National) seat to a marginal seat. Allan used her campaign to target younger voters and the 2017 result showed that more young Māori voted and enabled her to significantly close the lead that the National party’s Anne Tolley has in this general electorate.

Leaders of political parties standing in electorates have a difficult job promoting their party at a national level whilst maintaining their presence in their electorate area. Winston Peters, standing in the Northland electorate, faced just such a challenge. Peters travelled during the campaign by bus from the South to North Island and held numerous public meetings in various sized venues in regional locations.[31] His campaign message was “Together for New Zealand” although his street billboards used the slogan “Had enough?”

Peters’ won the 2015 Northland by-election with a significant 54.45% of the vote over the National candidate Mark Osborne’s 39.42%. In 2017 however Peters’ result was reduced to 34.81% with the National candidate Matt King winning at 38.3%.

Focus on Māori turnout

Political parties vying for the attention of Māori voters had competition from a government sponsored campaign to increase Māori voter turnout. In the 2016 Budget $5 million was allocated to promote Māori electoral participation.[32] Te Puni Kōkiri was tasked with administering the fund. In a press release announcing the funding, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox stated that, “The Māori Party wants to encourage more Māori to register on the electoral roll and vote”[33]. In his role as Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell launched the #FFSVote campaign at Weltec in Wellington in July 2017. The ‘face’ of the campaign was comedian William Wairua who was the main character in short skits that were posted on YouTube and Facebook. The timing of the campaign raised a number of challenging questions. How do incumbent Ministers and candidates encourage people to vote, but not necessarily be deemed to be campaigning for themselves or their parties?

After the election Te Puni Kōkiri claimed the campaign had been a success. They based this evaluation on a number of relatively general statistics including; the fact that their Facebook page achieved over 11, 000 ‘followers’, their team visited 30 events, enrolled “at least a thousand and has engaged with over 5,000 people on their travels”.[34] While each of those elements appear positive, without knowing what the targets were for the campaign it is difficult to truly evaluate or to draw a direct link between those and any increases in voter turnout. It is not clear what research Te Puni Kōkiri utilised in defining the problem they sought to resolve and in determining how to best solve those problems, or which targets they were pursuing. More robust evaluation is needed of these kinds of campaigns.

Māori turnout was marred with some controversy. Academic Veronica Tawhai contacted media and laid a complaint over inconsistent behaviour of Electoral Commission staff.[35] Māori had contacted Tawhai to say they had been either unable to enrol and vote early, a rule that was introduced in 2017, or that they were enrolled on the general not Māori electoral rolls despite requesting the Māori roll. The Electoral Commission responded by sending out a memo to all staff clarifying their processes and rules.[36]

Turnout in the Māori electorates was 66.71%.[37] This was a slight increase on turnout in the Māori electorates from 2014 when it was 65.08%. In the graph below the turnout in Māori electorates is tracked from 2002 (from which point there have been 7 Māori electorates) until 2017.

The overseas vote in the Māori electorates also continues to climb. More research is needed to understand the circumstances for these results.[38]

Although tracking turnout in Māori electorates provides a general sense of levels, it is important to note that amongst the electorates and within each electorate turnout varies. Amongst the Māori electorates, the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate is a unique case as it has a consistently lower turnout than other electorates.

Within Māori electorates turnout is not consistent across age groups which can be hugely significant as in the case of the Waiariki electorate mentioned previously. As another example, in 2017 in Te Tai Tonga electorate, turnout for 18-24 year olds was 62.08%. In Waiariki turnout in 2017 for 18-24 year olds was 57.26%.

Huge variations also exist across age and between Māori and general electorates. In 2017 Wellington Central Māori 18-24 year old turnout was 87.9%, and for Māori 65-69 year olds was 96.36%. In Waiariki turnout for 18-24 year olds was 57.26% and for 65-69 year olds 84.45%.

These variations amongst and within Māori electorates and across general electorates suggests that more detailed analysis is required to determine the specific factors which influence specific groups in particular areas. A campaign to increase turnout which is not informed by research is likely to have limited effect.


The 2017 election has seen the Māori party lose its place in Parliament and Labour has once again taken control of all the Māori electorates. Labour pursued a zero-sum game strategy while the Māori party sought relationships and cooperation.

One might ask, if the rhetoric is correct that relationships and cooperation are so important for many Māori, then why did the Māori electorates vote consistently for Labour candidates from 1943 until 1993? And why has Labour been re-elected in 2017 with an aggressive zero-sum game strategy? Perhaps it was largely due to Jacindamania or perhaps the Labour Party had good historical evidence to support its ambitions to dominate in Māori electorates and for its more aggressive stance.

Or, perhaps, if more political parties stood candidates in the Māori electorates they would be less easily captured in a zero-sum game.


[1] Stephen Church, ‘Government Formation’, in J. Hayward (ed) New Zealand Government and Politics, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2015.

[2]  John Black, Nigar Hashimzade, and Gareth Myles, Oxford Dictionary of Economics, Oxford: Oxford online.

[3] Issac Davison, Labour’s Māori MP to run only in their electorates’, NZ Herald, 21 March 2017,

[4] Stephen Church, ‘Government Formation’, in J. Hayward (ed) New Zealand Government and Politics, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2015.

[5] Māori Television, ‘Kelvin Davis says ‘no deal’ to 2 for 1 in parliament, 20 September 2017,

[6] Andrew Little, RadioNZ, 21 February 2017,

[7] Māmari Stephens, ‘Kaupapa Māori and the war on words’, E-Tangata, 26 February 2017,

[8] Māmari Stephens, ‘Kaupapa Māori and the war on words’, E-Tangata, 26 February 2017,

[9] Māmari Stephens, ‘Kaupapa Māori and the war on words’, E-Tangata, 26 February 2017,

[10] Kate Shuttleworth, ‘Jacindamania: Rocketing rise of new Zealand Labour’s fresh politial hope’, The Guardian, 1 September 2017,

[11] Heta Gardiner, ‘Tukuroirangi Morgan elected as Māori Party President’, Māori Television 16 July 2016,

[12] ‘Māori and Mana parties sign deal to work together’, RadioNZ,

[13] RNZ, ‘Māori Party not a kaupapa Māori party’. 21 February, 2017, ,

[14] Electoral Commission ‘ Election results’, total valid votes. 2014 Mana result is inferred from ‘Other’ category as they were the only other party which stood a candidate, .

[15] Electoral Commission, ‘Election results’, 2017 Māori Party result is inferred from ‘Other’ as they were the only other party that stood a candidate.

[16] ‘Māori and Pasifika unite under Māori Party banner’, Māori Television,

[17] One Pacific Party, press release,

[18] Ibid.

[19] The six candidates and their electorates were: Tuilagi Saipele Esera for Manukau East, Tofilau Esther Tofilau-Tevaga for Mangere, John Kiria for Mt Roskill, Karen Williams for New Lynn, Maryanne Marsters for Napier, Manase Lua for Maungakiekie.

[20] Tariana Turia, quoted in Morgan Godfery, J. Hayward (ed) New Zealand Government and Politics, Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2015.


[22] Mihingarangi Forbes, ‘Māori King rejects Labour in unscripted speech closing’, RNZ, 21 August 2016,

[23] John Boynton, ‘Māori King Tuheitia endorses Māori Party’, RadioNZ, 21 August 2017,

[24] Claire Trevett, ‘Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta: Kingitanga at risk after Māōri Party endorsement’, NZ Herald, 26 August 2017,

[25] See for example, Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, ‘Iwi Leaders group supports Māori Party on RMA’, press release 9 November 2016,  Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, ‘Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group Welcomes Changes to RMA’, Press release, 25 March 2017,

[26] Annette Sykes, ‘Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture’, 2010,

[27] Yvonne Tahana, ‘Maori Party must explain deference to iwi leaders Group says lawyer’, NZ Herald, 26 October 2010,

[28] Foucault’s notion of the ‘docile body’ is “A body is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” Michel Foucalt, Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin, p.136.

[29] Māori Party,

[30] Coastie Chats,

[31] Claire Trevett, ‘NZ First leader Peters’ tour bus stop ends here’, NZ Herald, 15 July 2017,

[32] Māori Party, ‘$5m to promote Māori voter participation’, press release, 26 May 2016 Treasury, ‘Vote Māori Development’, in The Estimates of Appropriations 2016/2017

[33] Marama Fox, Māori Party, ‘$5m to promote Māori voter participation’, press release, 26 May 2016

[34] Te Puni Kōkiri, ‘Thousands Engage in Rangatahi Vote Campaign’, 25 September 2017,

[35] Veronica Tawhai, ‘Electoral Commission undermining of Māori rights’, press release 16 September 2017,

[36] Amanda Jane Robson, ‘Complaints laid against election staff’ Newshub,17th September 2017

[37] Turnout is calculated as total valid votes cast from those enrolled. Electoral Commission statistics are used for the basis of all calculations in this paper.

[38] Note that these results are based on total valid votes rather than a percentage and so need to be treated with some caution as turnout has fluctuated over these elections.