Posted on October 5, 2023

Race Issues Emerge in New Zealand’s Election

Lucy Cramer, Reuters, October 3, 2023

Race and relations with the indigenous Maori population have emerged as issues in New Zealand’s election as right-wing parties likely to be pivotal in forming a government face accusations of stoking racial division.

When Jacinda Ardern led her Labour party to a landslide victory in 2020, New Zealand stood out with progressive policies at a time when many countries had elected right-wing governments.

Three years on, New Zealand is seeing a growing populist movement that could hold sway over a coalition government and push to remove programs that were designed to address inequality and boost the presence of Maori.

This election, the “racism is more overt,” said Naida Glavish, a Maori community leader and president of Te Pati Maori. She was one of a group of high profile elders who wrote an open letter last week condemning what they called unacceptable levels of racism from political candidates running in the Oct. 14 election.

Both the right-wing ACT Party and populist New Zealand First are promoting policies that would rewind changes that occurred in New Zealand under the Labour government to better acknowledge Maori as the country’s first people.

ACT has railed against “co-governance” or the sharing of some management between the state and indigenous people, and has vowed to wind back the use of Maori language in everyday life and dismantle the Maori Health Authority {snip}

Both ACT and New Zealand First say their policies are not racist but instead are promoting the equal rights of all New Zealanders, with the argument that non-Indigenous citizens are losing out because of policies designed for Maori.

“The public service is meant to serve all New Zealanders, but even administration and service delivery has become focussed on race. This isn’t a true focus on equity, serving citizens based on their measured need rather than their ancestry is,” ACT leader David Seymour said in a fund-raising message to voters.

Seymour has also said he would shut the ministry set up for the advancement of Pacific People.