Story: Tōrangapū – Māori and political parties
With the British settlers of the 19th century came a new British-style government. From the outset, Māori sought representation within this government, seeing it as a vital way to advocate for their people’s rights and wellbeing.
Full story by Ann Sullivan
Main image: Mana Motuhake and Alliance MP Sandra Lee
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The first Māori voters
When New Zealand held its first general election in 1853, only men who owned or leased land of a certain value were eligible to vote. Few Māori met the requirements, and no Māori were elected.
In 1867 four new electorates were created specifically for Māori, who were able to vote in these electorates only. Likewise, Māori candidates could stand only in Māori electorates, unless they had one non-Māori parent. In that case they could stand in either a Māori or a general electorate.
A new party system
All MPs were independents until 1891 when New Zealand’s first organised political party formed – the Liberal Party. It attracted support from a number of prominent Māori MPs including James Carroll and Āpirana Ngata.
The more conservative Reform Party came into being in 1909, and this gained important support from Māori politicians such as Māui Pōmare.
Māori political parties emerge
In the 20th century several independent Māori political parties were formed. Rātana began as a religious movement, but soon became deeply involved in politics. It was concerned with Māori poverty and landlessness and gained widespread Māori support. In 1936 it allied with the Labour Party.
In 1967 a law change allowed Māori to stand in general electorates, and in 1975 Māori voters gained the choice of enrolling on either the Māori roll or the general roll.
Matiu Rata formed the Mana Motuhake Party in 1980. It became an important part of New Zealand’s political landscape during the 1980s and 1990s.
The MMP proportional electoral system was introduced after 1993. At the same time the number of Māori electorates were increased slightly, rising to seven by 2002. With these changes, smaller Māori political parties gained more opportunities for representation.
Māori grievances over the erosion of customary rights to the foreshore and seabed sparked the formation of the Māori Party, led by Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples. It won four of the Māori electorates in 2005, five in 2008, and three in 2011.