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1 Sep 2023

Asian lawmakers eye greater representation in Parliament on back of list rankings

3:50 pm on 1 September 2023
Clockwise from top left: National's Melissa Lee, Labour's Priyanca Radhakrishnan, ACT's Parmjeet Parmar and Green candidate Lan Pham

Clockwise from top left: National's Melissa Lee, Labour's Priyanca Radhakrishnan, ACT's Parmjeet Parmar and Green candidate Lan Pham Photo: RNZ / Supplied

The next New Zealand Parliament could contain the largest-ever contingent of politicians with Asian heritage if current polling numbers hold steady over the final six weeks of the campaign.

Based on recent polls, National looks like winning 47-48 seats, Labour 35-37, ACT 15-17, the Greens 15-16 and Te Pāti Māori three, provided co-leader Rawiri Waititi retains Waiariki. New Zealand First could force the numbers to be rejigged if it manages to cross the 5 percent threshold.

While all four mainstream political parties have unveiled their ranked lists, New Zealand First has yet to do so.

Eight politicians of Asian descent entered Parliament at the 2020 election, the same number of lawmakers with Asian heritage that were MPs during the previous term.

So which candidates of Asian descent are likely to make it into Parliament across party lines?

The National Party's list of 74 candidates includes nine candidates of Asian descent, with Melissa Lee who has been an MP since 2008 enjoying the highest ranking of 13. She is of Korean ethnicity.

Nancy Lu is the highest-ranking candidate of Chinese descent at 20, featuring as a list-only candidate in this year's election.

Paulo Garcia, who traces his origins to the Philippines and has enjoyed a short stint as an MP between 2019 and 2020, is comfortably placed at 34.

Carlos Cheung, who was born in Hong Kong and is challenging Labour's Michael Wood in Mt Roskill, has a list ranking of 48. National needs to improve its polling for Cheung to become an MP this term.

Meanwhile, Indian New Zealanders feature prominently on National's party list this year, with three candidates quite comfortably placed and the remainder probably lying on the wrong side of the equation.

Businessman Siva Kilari leads the pack at 30, although he is also an electorate candidate from Manurewa.

Mahesh Muralidhar, who is challenging the Green's Chlöe Swarbrick in Auckland Central, has a list ranking of 43, closely followed by the party's Panmure-Ōtāhuhu candidate, Navtej Singh Randhawa, at 46.

Karunā Muthu, who is the only Indian-origin candidate from any major party in the Wellington region, enjoys a ranking of 51. Ankit Bansal from Palmerston North - a Labour stronghold - follows Muthu at 52. Both candidates will be needing Labour to slip further to make it into Parliament.

The Indian representation is mirrored by National's main ally, the ACT Party, with four such candidates named in the party's list of 62 candidates.

Former National lawmaker Parmjeet Parmar (2014-20) is set to an MP again come October, with a list ranking of nine. In all likelihood, she will be joined by business owner Himanshu Parmar, who is fighting it out in Hamilton East and is placed at 13.

Rahul Chopra with list ranking of 26, and Pothen Joseph with list ranking of 46 who comes from the Indian state of Kerala completes the subcontinental representation.

If ACT improves its polling just a little, Christine Young - with a ranking of 18 and whose parents immigrated to New Zealand from China in the 1950s - may have an outside chance of becoming a New Zealand lawmaker.

Another candidate in Act's list is Rae Ah Chee who is an Auckland-born Chinese and is placed at 30.

On the other side of the aisle, the Green Party has nine candidates of Asian descent.

Lan Pham, who is of Vietnamese heritage and is ranked number six in the party list, and incumbent Iranian-origin MP Golriz Ghahraman, who is ranked at seven, both look poised to enter Parliament.

Sitting on the fence are China-born Lawrence Xu-Nan at 16, and Philippines-born Francisco Hernandez at 17, who represents the Greens in its bid to win the Dunedin electorate.

Sri Lankan New Zealander Suveen Sanis Walgampola at 21, Gina Dao-McLay with Vietnamese heritage at 23, and a former refugee born and raised in Pakistan named Ali Muhammad are the remaining candidates.

In terms of Indian representation in the Greens list, Neelu Jennings, whose parents are Indian-Kenyans is placed at 27. Last on the list, at 28, is general practitioner Sapna Samant, who is challenging Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan in Maungakiekie.

Radhakrishnan who created history last term by becoming New Zealand's first-ever Indian-origin Cabinet minister, leads the Labour Party's list in terms of Asian representation. She is placed at 15.

Kharag Singh is only other Indian-origin candidate in the ruling party's list and is ranked number 66. Singh is fighting a David versus Goliath battle in the Botany electorate against National leader and prime ministerial candidate Christopher Luxon.

Meanwhile, two sitting MPs, Sri Lankan New Zealander Vanushi Walters, who is ranked 30, and Beijing-born Naisi Chen who is ranked 33, will be hoping Labour doesn't slide further down.

Near the bottom of Labour's list is Aladdin Al-Bustanji, ranked 64, and Zulfiqar Butt, ranked 68.

Al-Bustanji is originally from Jordan and has been the Labour candidate from Taupō a few times. Butt is a former Palmerston North city councillor (2019-2022), hails from Pakistan, and is the party's candidate from Rangitīkei, a National stronghold.

If New Zealand First manages to cross the 5 percent threshold or manages to win the Northland electorate seat, Indian-origin MP Mahesh Bindra (2014-17) may make a triumphant return to Parliament.

This likelihood depends on the party's list rankings when they are released.

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