The Power of the Pasifika Vote
16 April 2023
Whichever party can secure and win the bulk of the Pacific vote has a good chance of winning the election. But do our political parties understand the values and issues that are important to our Pasifika communities?
It’s election year. That means politicians will be working hard taking selfies with babies, shaking hundreds of hands in shopping malls and visiting places they usually don’t attend to try and get votes, like churches. Politicians come out to court voters, throwing out promises and policies like a giant New Zealand lolly scramble!
When we moved from Samoa to New Zealand in 1981, voting was really important for my parents because we could have our say and participate as citizens of this beautiful country.
Today, there’s over 380,000 Pasifika people in NZ – about 8% of the population.
The Pacific vote is really powerful for any election – whichever party can secure and win the bulk of the Pacific vote has a good chance of winning the election. In the 2020 Election, Labour absolutely smashed it – winning 46 out of the total 72 electorate seats around the country. In that election, 11 MPs of Pacific descent were voted in – the biggest number yet. Also in that election, the 10 electorates with the biggest winning margins were all won by Labour candidates.
What was really crazy was that nearly all of these electorates in the top 10 have massive Pasifika populations – Mangere, Otahuhu, Manurewa, Christchurch East, Porirua and Kelston. See that shows how important the Pacific vote is.
Pacific people have traditionally been strong supporters of Labour over the years. Pacific migrants in the 50s, 60s, & 70, they found strength and support in the Labour Party who stood for workers’ rights and the working class. David Lange was a legend when we moved to Mangere in South Auckland – he stood for a party that was fighting for poorer families like us. I remember asking my Mum who to vote for when I turned 18, and she told me very forcefully – “we only vote Labour”.
But over the last few elections, I’ve asked myself this question: Is this still the same Labour party of old?
As a Bible-believing Christian, I look at some of the policies and ideologies of this current Labour Party and I believe they go completely against a Christian or Biblical worldview.
NZ today is essentially a post-Christian, or secular society, but Pacific people are still heavily churched and very religious, with nearly 70% of Pacific people professing to be Christians.
But under this government, we’ve seen stronger socialist ideologies. They’ve passed one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, they’ve legalised euthanasia or assisted suicide, they’ve passed controversial conversion therapy laws, they’ve tried to push these munted as hate speech laws, and they’ve tried to centralise water, education and health, all to make a bigger government – man that’s scary!
I strongly argue that this is not the same Labour of old.
This Labour seems more captured by ideology over true innovation, personality over good policies and control and censorship over courageous conversations. Maybe catering to the cultural elite with their degrees and chai lattes has taken over truly supporting working-class people and families.
In the last election, my mother-in-law, a faithful Labour supporter for over 60 years, for the first time didn’t vote for Labour because her values were no longer represented by the party.
But when I look the National Party and others on the right – I’m not that inspired to be honest. Do they have what it takes to win Pacific voters? I’m not sure. Do they truly understand the values, issues, and realities important to Pacific people? I hope so. Will Pasifika people vote them? Who knows.
In the end, my urgent plea to my Pasifika people is to think more about your vote – don’t just vote based on history or because your parents or your Pastor told you to vote a certain way or just vote for the brown person in the election. Please think, consider and pray about your vote carefully in this election.
Why? One reason when we look at where our Pacific people are at in Aotearoa with ALL these Pacific MPs in power, all the millions of dollars of funding coming into our communities, and all the years we have been established in Aotearoa, our statistics and numbers overall, are still not good:
- High unemployment rates
- Low homeownership rates
- More Pacific people living in overcrowding, homelessness, and social housing.
- High numbers on welfare
- Pacific people overrepresented in prison, gangs, and domestic violence
- Our young people not doing as well in schools as they could be
Of course, the story is not completely bad – man, I get that. There’s heaps of great stories and progress for our people in New Zealand.
That’s why your vote is crucial – to make sure we have more good stories and more good outcomes and to make sure we have a government that supports all New Zealanders, one that doesn’t interfere too much with our daily lives and creates an environment where all NZers can thrive, including my own precious Pasifika people.
I’m Ronji Tanielu, Community Worker for The Common Room.