The countdown towards New Zealand’s General Election is well and truly underway.
With voters set to go to the polls on 23 September, New Zealand’s election-mania is not lost on these shores with so many people here affected by the policies to be decided by Members of Parliament down at the Beehive.
So far, there have been some surprising development in the political discourse with the announcement of a new Labour Party Leader. Jacinda Ardern weeks out before the elections. There was also the introduction of the Opportunities Party with Gareth Morgan and one much closer to home and a first of its kind, the partnership between the Maori Party and newly formed One Pacific Party.
Although they are two independent parties, the One Pacific party will be running under the Maori Party ballot in this year’s New Zealand General Elections.
Up to nine candidates of Pacific descent are allowed but only six have been named so far. Two Samoans are standing in Labour stronghold seats traditionally, former Samoa Rugby Union C.E.O, Tuilagi Saipele Esera for Manukau East and Tofilau Esther Tofilau Tevaga for Mangere.
As part of their campaign strategy, One Pacific is reaching out to locals in Samoa who are eligible to vote, in a bid to win votes for the Maori party and promote their Samoan candidates.
Executive Committee member for One Pacific, Tuigamala Anetipa Lam Sam, has been campaigning in Samoa. He spoke to the Samoa Observer about why One Pacific was formed and how their relationship with the Maori Party developed.
“One Pacific came into being because the Pacific Leaders Forum was approached by the Maori party and said, can we do something about getting together with the Pacific Islanders and contest the General Elections,” he said.
“So the Pacific forum leadership group then decided they want to remain independent but form a political arm of the group which is now the One Pacific Party.”
While the Maori Party recognised that Pacific Island communities have similar needs and saw an opportunity to increase their voter influence, Tuigamala Anetipa explained why One Pacific chose to run under the Maori Party rather than running under their own party ballot.
“Because we started late and we don’t have a real organisation in One Pacific. However the Maori party has already been established so we agreed to go into this election as the Maori party but through the next three year term we are going to have serious discussions on whether we are going to change the name to the Maori Pacific Party.”
Tuigamala was pressed on why there was no support from the Pacific Leaders Forum for the already existing Pacific M.P's and he is skeptical about their ability to affect real change at a policy level for Pacific Island communities.
“We have no real Pacific leadership group in those main parties. For a long time now, the candidates that are running under Labour and National are only the individuals."
“They want to run but not as candidates for Samoa or Fiji and so the Pacific islanders have realised that their views don’t count because it never gets to the decision making area…the Maori party recognised that the Pacific Islands need a forum whereby they can channel their wants, needs and votes and then voice them in parliament.”
But not everyone agrees.
The Samoa Observer reached out to Labour Party M.P., Carmel Sepuloni, of Tongan and Samoan descent, who represents the Kelston Electorate office in West Auckland.
“There is something disturbing about a party that purports to represent Pacific views but then in the same breath seeks to undermine the Pacific representatives who have been elected to Parliament,” Sepuloni said.
“We live in democracy so I respect anyone who puts themselves forward as a candidate in an election, including the Pacific candidates who have done so as part of the One Pacific movement, however I believe that Labour has always been the political party that is aspirational for Pacific people and that is why I stand alongside Labours seven other Pacific candidates."
“I’m very proud of the fact that I am in a party where Pacific M.P's make up 16% of our caucus (despite the fact we only make up 8% of the population)."
“Our Pacific M.P's are Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands and Tokelauan. We have N.Z. born and we have Pacific Island born. We have Pacific women and men. Pacific people are not one homogenous group, so diversity amongst us of ethnicity, gender, life experience and views on issues is important to ensuring we represent our people effectively. "
“As Pacific MPs we absolutely recognise the role we have in representing and serving our Pacific communities. Our aim is to further grow the number of Pacific MP’s at this year’s election and to get in to Government so we can effect the change that we want to see for Pacific peoples.”
Tuigamala admits that the policies that One Pacific promotes do not differ much from those proposed by other Pacific candidates from Labour or National.
The real difference is that the Maori/Pacific alliance if successful in the elections, will have a much stronger voice in the New Zealand government which is why they are pushing the party vote even if One Pacific candidates don’t win any seats.
Tuigamala believes it is time for Pacific people to take charge of their own destiny and in his opinion, the timing is perfect as smaller parties are starting to weaken with the Green party losing support and Peter Dunne resigning weeks out from the election. This gives this new alliance a chance to make its presence known and perhaps gain more support.
Vaovasa Winston Peters has in past elections been touted in New Zealand as the “King Maker” when he has been in the position of holding the balance of power.
Could the One Pacific Party be the next “King Maker?”
Tuigamala was modest but optimistic.
“Anything is possible.”