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, which was set up to counter systemic disadvantage.