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16 Oct 2023

Chinese candidates nervous about election fate

16:53 16/10/2023
Chinese candidates in election 2023

Clockwise from top left: Carlos Cheung (National), Nancy Lu (National), Christine Young (ACT), Naisi Chen (Labour) and Lawrence Xu-Nan (Green). Photo: supplied

Some Chinese candidates vying for a seat in Parliament still aren't sure whether they'll make the cut once the special votes are confirmed on 3 November.

With approximately 567,000 special votes still yet to be counted, three of the five candidates of Chinese descent are quietly hoping that results swing in their favour.

Preliminary results announced on election night on Saturday show National and ACT securing 61 seats - just enough to form a government on their own.

The candidates trying to secure a seat in an electorate race or via the party list are waiting for the last permutations to be resolved if National loses a seat or two once the final tally is confirmed, as has historically been the case.

National's Carlos Cheung and Nancy Lu and Labour's Naisi Chen all face a degree of uncertainty in their bids to enter Parliament.

Cheung currently leads Michael Wood in the Labour stronghold of Mt Roskill by 1429 votes, with special votes still to be counted.

If the result stands, Cheung would become the second MP of Chinese origin to win an electorate seat since Pansy Wong won Botany in 2008.

Carlos Cheung, national party

Carlos Cheung, National candidate for Mt Roskill. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Cheung is confident the outcome will favor National.

"The voters are very happy because our team managed to achieve something (in Mt Roskill) no one actually achieved before," he says. "I need to give credit to our team. I'm very happy for the result for them."

Born in Hong Kong, Cheung moved to New Zealand as a teenager. The National candidate has lived in Mt Roskill for more than 15 years, saying his passion for serving people has propelled him into the political arena.

Cheung says he wants to enhance the lives of Mt Roskill residents should his election night result stand.

"We want to reduce cost-of-living pressures and restore law and order in our community," he says. "People in Mt Roskill deserve a safe place to live."

Nancy Lu, National Party

Nancy Lu stood for the National Party in the 2023 election as a list-only candidate. Photo: supplied

Fellow National candidate Nancy Lu, who stood as a list-only candidate, says she feels proud of the election result.

"This is the outcome many New Zealanders and voters were hoping for," Lu says.

Currently ranked 20 on National's list, Lu is teetering on the edge of making the final cut this year.

"I remain hopeful about entering Parliament, and the counting process is still ongoing," she says. "Getting into the Beehive this term would allow me to advocate for New Zealanders and represent the Chinese community in Parliament over the next three years.

She says the National Party wants to reduce cost-of-living pressures and rebuild the economy.

"Tackling crime is another top priority for the National Party," she says. "I hope I don't have to worry about the safety of my child living in New Zealand. I also wish every parent, every family doesn't have to worry about New Zealand's rampant crime.

"Looking ahead, I hope we can build a better New Zealand for this generation and the next."

Former Labour list MP Naisi Chen

Labour's Naisi Chen on election night. Photo: RNZ / Maree Mahony

Labour's Naisi Chen described election day as being "very disappointing".

"This is very different from the vote count we expected," she says. "It's a highly unexpected outcome. I feel very regretful for many colleagues who didn't win their electorates."

Chen stood for the East Coast Bays electorate this year. But with Erica Stanford leading the electorate by more than 20,000 votes, Chen's list ranking of 33 doesn't instill much confidence.

"I am not without hope of returning to Parliament in this election, but we must await the final results," she says. "I still need to confirm whether the candidates ranked lower than me on the party list have won their electorates."

Should Chen secure a second term, she has firm goals while in opposition.

Her priorities include elevating government awareness about the health and well-being of Asian communities, inspiring young Asian New Zealanders to engage in public sectors, and devoting herself to New Zealand's art sector to amplify visibility for Asian artists within the mainstream.

"If I don't secure a seat in Parliament, I intend to pursue further studies abroad," she says. "Whether continuing my education or working overseas, I will bring back what I've learned to New Zealand."

Lawrence Xu-Nan at a campaign event in Balmoral, Auckland.

Lawrence Xu-Nan at a campaign event in Balmoral, Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Lawrence Xu-Nan, the Green Party's sole Chinese-origin candidate, is happy for the party to secure 14 seats as things stand now.

"The Green Party's vote counts may not align with the earlier polls, but from the perspective of a smaller party, this outcome is a recognition of the Green Party," he says.

Born in Tianjin, Xu-Nan has been calling Aotearoa home for 25 years. He missed out in the 2020 election and, with his current list ranking of 16, is unlikely to become an MP in the next term.

Xu-Nan says he has no regrets about failing to secure a seat in Parliament.

He also is satisfied to see the Green Party taking positive steps to engage with the New Zealand Chinese community firsthand.

"I will continue to serve the Chinese community over the next three years," he says. "Chinese immigrants have a history of over 100 years in New Zealand, and the Chinese community is highly diverse. Having grown up in New Zealand, being fluent in both Chinese and English, I aim to build a bridge between the English-speaking and Chinese-speaking communities to facilitate better communication."

Securing almost 9 percent of the party vote and winning two electorates, ACT looks likely to have 11 MPs in Parliament.

Chinese-origin candidate Christine Young is both delighted and dismayed.

"This is the best result that ACT has achieved," Young says. "But it's disappointing we didn't reach our full potential. We do have a very diverse and inclusive caucus in our leadership."

Christine Young

Christine Young, ACT Party candidate for Tauranga. Photo: Supplied

Young's list ranking is 18 and she earned 3172 electorate votes in Tauranga. However, when compared to National Sam Uffindell's 15,970 votes, she is unlikely to secure a seat this year.

Young said she will continue working as an educator in the community and advocate for teaching new migrants English in Tauranga.

According to latest figures from the 2018 census, Chinese residents account for about 5 percent of New Zealand's population. The roughly 248,000 who identified with a Chinese heritage in the census five years ago make up the largest Asian ethnic group in the country.

By this measure, there should be six Chinese lawmakers in the country's 120-seat Parliament in each term. However, only five Chinese lawmakers have been in the Beehive since mixed-member proportional representation was introduced in 1996.

"Chinese migrants have been a big part of the New Zealand history, so it's important that we do have a greater Chinese voice," Young says. "It would be great if more Chinese candidates came forward."

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