Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Maori party's dilemna

I had an argument with my wife the other day as to what might happen after the election, if National form the largest party. We both accepted this appeared likely on current polling. I argued that it was still probable that National would be unable to form a workable coalition - their only definite coalition bedfellow, ACT, is too under-endowed to provide much satisfaction. NZ First might or might not be be around, after the election, and might jump either way.

(Though Key's recent populist barrel scraping makes a jump into Key's bed more amenable to Winston - unless he feels there should only be one populist barrel scraper in government, and if he allies himself wih Key, he might - horror of horrors - have to follow through on some of his silly rhetoric.)

The Greens are a very long shot. That left the Maori Party, likely to weigh in with a useful number of MPs. The Maori Party have previously expressed opinions that hint they'll tell both of the major parties to go to Hell (and good on them), but if this turns out to be bluster, there is still a good reason why Pita, Tariana, Hone et al should resist Key's advances. National still hanker after abolishing the Maori seats, and made this clear in a statement issued almost exactly a year ago:

The National Party Caucus today moved to confirm its position on the future of the Maori seats, which involves tying their abolition to the settlement of historic Treaty claims.

"The Caucus today confirmed that the Maori seats will be abolished, which we anticipate will take place around the time of settlement of historic Treaty claims," says National Party Leader John Key.

"Around the time of the last settlement - which we anticipate will be in 2014 - National will begin a constitutional process to abolish the seats. The reason for such a process is that this is a major change of interest to all New Zealanders. (1)

2014 is a long time away, of course, but the Maori Party need to think strategically about this. A weak, dependent national government in 2008 will be looking for re-election in 2011.

National will spend its first term in office showing that it can be comfortingly mediocre and non-radical. So no abolition of the Maori seats, just like no bulk funding for schools, no sale of nd state-owned enterprises. If Key can do the comfortingly mediocre thing adequately, he can expect to be given another shot at the job, and national will save their dynamite for the second term. And the next time, he is may be able to look elsewhere for support.

The Maori Party needs - like the whole of New Zealand - to think beyond 2008. Do they really want a radical right wing government, intent on continuing the policies of the 80s and 90s? If not, giving Key even one term would be a mistake. Just like alocoholics can't have a second or third drink if they resist the first, the best way to avoid a National second term is not to allow them the first.
1 - " National confirms position on Maori seats," press release by the National party, 1st of February, 2007. (http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=9245)

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