18 Oct 2020

Māori Party heading back to Parliament after electorate win

6:04 am on 18 October 2020

The Māori Party looks set to secure a place back in Parliament after three years out in the cold.

Rawiri Waititi.

Rawiri Waititi. Photo: LDR / Supplied / Erica Sinclair Photography

Rawiri Waititi has won the Māori electorate of Waiariki, taking it back for his party from Labour's Tamati Coffey.

Waititi won the seat by 415 votes, however, that could change depending on special votes.

Labour made a clean sweep of the seven Māori electorates at the 2017 election, meaning the Māori Party had no representation in Parliament.

Coffey had won that seat from former Māori Party co-leader Te Uroroa Flavell, who retired from politics after his defeat.

It was all or nothing for the Māori Party - with low polling numbers, winning an electorate was their only realistic chance at getting back into Parliament.

Earlier on in the election campaign, hopes had been pinned on party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer in Te Tai Hauāuru.

Then a Māori Television/Curia Market Research poll on 12 October showed the race for Tāmaki Makaurau was close - Labour's Peeni Henare - the incumbent in the electorate - was at 35 percent of the candidate vote, closely followed by the Māori Party's John Tamihere on 29 percent.

Waititi told RNZ it was "an awesome campaign".

He says it shows there is a mood and appetite for the Māori Party to have a voice in Parliament.

"It may come down to special votes but look I'm confident that tonight's results are favourable to the Māori Party. Usually early votes favour Labour and the Greens and in this particular instance it didn't.

"It's going to come down to specials, it's going to be a tight race but what it does say is the Māori Party now has the waka on the water and you know it doesn't end here. We're preparing for the next three years."

Coffey wouldn't concede when spoken to with 93 percent of the vote counted - at that point he was about 300 votes behind.

"It's not over until it's over. In the last election I benefited from special votes and I think that actually we need to wait until those come in until we draw definitive results from tonight's election."

He received 450 special votes at the last election.

Coffey said he wasn't disappointed given the overall result for Labour.

But the fight for Waiariki was always going to be tight, he said.

Waititi said: "We ran a strong ground campaign and we ran a very Māori campaign ... we've also run a very strong social media campaign. The numbers are telling us that 2023, the game is on.

"There's huge issues here in the Waiariki ... around housing, mental health, education. But I think the biggest thing is, is starting to challenge the systemic racism in the actual parliamentary system that keeps our people in second place.

"The electoral law I think is something that really needs to be challenged by all of the Māori representatives in Parliament because it really keeps our people in second place."