Byelection Battle for the North Hone Harawira

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Hone Harawira was wise to seek battle in the June 25 Te Tai Tokerau byelection rather than the November general election. Mana is the newest and least resourced of the three parties contesting the seat. Standing now cuts the time his larger adversaries have to mobilise.

Mr Harawira has several advantages. His Facebook site reflects a record of diligent advocacy on behalf of constituents. He is an institution in his own right on Waitangi Day.

A series of defections from the Maori Party has handed Mr Harawira the organisation he needs to succeed, including experienced veterans from the successful 2005 and 2008 elections. Add in the best Maori political organiser in the country, Matt McCarten, doubly motivated by his own Maori Party dumping some years ago.

Mobilising notoriously apathetic byelection voters may be a challenge, however, the interest in this contest should ensure a good turnout.

Polls show the momentum is with Mr Harawira. This is a backlash against the Maori Party. A Horizon Research poll earlier this year showed just 11 per cent Maori support for the Takutai Moana Act with 41 per cent opposed. A previous Te Karere Digipoll had 45 per cent of Maori Party voters and 50 per cent of all Maori sharing Mr Harawiras concern about the Maori Party relationship with National.

More specifically, a February New Zealand Herald poll showed 80 per cent of northern Maori thought the Maori Party had treated Mr Harawira unfairly the disciplinary process was tribally biased, Maori Party officials avoided attending an electorate meeting in Whangarei and expected Mr Harawira to attend a meeting in Wellington on the first day of Ngapuhi treaty claims hearing. Others feel the Maori Party has personalised their differences with Mr Harawira to pander the whims of a mainstream media preoccupied with depicting brown monsters.

Predicting a result, an early May Horizon poll showed 40 per cent of Maori Party voters were considering supporting Mr Harawira, 30 per cent of all Maori voters are thinking of joining the Mana Party and just 37.7 per cent of Maori Party voters remain loyal.

Translating this through the 2008 election result (Mr Harawira won 12,019 votes and Kelvin Davis 5,711) and assuming 50 per cent of voters stay at home, Mr Harawira should win by around 1500 votes over Labour with the Maori Party 1500 further adrift.

It could be get significantly worse for the Maori Party. Last weeks Northern Advocate online poll says 77 per cent of local Maori think Mr Harawira will win; just 17 per cent back Labour and a miniscule seven per cent support the Maori Party.

But this is not a done deal. Alliances and differences between Muriwhenua, Ngapuhi, Ngati Hine and Ngati Whatua in filial loyalty and treaty politics may make a closer election. The tribes did not back Matiu Rata when he resigned from Labour in 1978 – he lost the following election.

Mr Harawira faces a challenge translating his left Maori-Pakeha vehicle into palatable policy articulating an indigenous M?ori, equality based, treaty centred, bicultural underclassism is no easy task. Obnubilating that like Tau Henares 1990s Mauri Pacific could backfire.

While the recent outburst by whanau doyenne on te Tii marae was acceptable within tikanga, greater decorum will avoid playing into the hands of the media. Mr Harawira must self-moderate – no more motherf***** or dickheads comments – although many see a raw honesty in his milder expletives.

Should Harawira win the election he will secure momentum toward the general election. Tamakimakaurau would be the next most likely seat to fall to Mana. The latest Horizon national level poll has the Mana Party ahead of the M?ori Party 2.3 per cent to 2.1 per cent.

Should he lose, the Mana Party waka may be sunk before properly launched. However, as with other former Maori MPs there are always the shallower more lucrative waters of talkback radio and column writing.

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