One person one vote

Written By: - Date published: 8:59 am, March 24th, 2010 - 14 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, democratic participation, maori party, Maori seats - Tags:

Pita Sharples’ speech on race relations day (Sunday), and his comments that followed, certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons. Firstly, and unusually, he commented frankly on working with National:

I have to admit that while we have a rangatira to rangatira agreement with the John Key led National Government, at times it is very difficult and stressful.

(See coverage here). Secondly, and attracting even more attention, Sharples commented on the nature of democracy in NZ. Given the fuss that followed, it’s worth quoting with a bit of context:

Cultural genocide is not too strong a term to describe the history under our feet tonight. This was the background to the Bastion Point occupation, which was engraved in the heart’s of Ngāti Whatua and almost completely unknown by their fellow citizens of Auckland.

It is against this history of the oppression of Ngāti Whatua and the history of Ngāti Whatua’s promotion of British settlement, their role in providing land to rebuild Auckland town, and their protection of those early settlers it is against these events, that I regret the decision made by my Government this term that there should be no designated seats for Māori on the new Auckland super-city. It seems to me to be poor reward for such a major role played by Ngāti Whatua in ensuring that the city of Auckland could survive, grow, and flourish as acknowledged in the Tribunal’s letter to Minister Wetere. …

It seems that these Māori principles that guaranteed that Auckland could survive and grown [sic], would be far more important, even in today’s times than such artificial political concoctions such as ‘one vote for one person’, or ‘democratic elections’ which were the principles that were cited to decline the two seats on the super-city council. The Māori kaupapa were principles that promoted ‘equity’ and ‘inclusiveness’, surely the ideals of a ‘civilised’ society. We must begin to recognise that democracy has many expressions, many ways of mobilising voices and representation, rather than statically holding onto dominant axioms.

This was recognised by the Royal Commission when they recommended three, not just two, seats designated for Māori at the super-city top table. Ngāti Whatua did not care about such things as ‘equal-voting rights’ or any other artificial device with which to make decisions they applied, measures to ensure equality, as their mandate to help pākeha to settle and rebuild this town[.] So I feel that the Auckland city seats decision is a missed opportunity, lost to the politics of the day.

Sharples is of course again lamenting the kick in the teeth that the Maori Party had from National over seats on the Auckland council. But the comments about democratic mechanisms here are actually much more thoughtful than the discussion which followed. “One person one vote” is just a quick slogan, the essence of its meaning is that everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone’s voice is equal. Definitions of democracy have long recognised that some mechanisms, beyond simple voting, are necessary to protect minorities from “the tyranny of the majority”. Hence democracies have constitutional limits on power, an independent judiciary, Bills of Rights, international law, and “checks and balances” such as an Upper House / Senate or a President / Head of State. That seems to be what Sharples is discussing here — other mechanisms to achieve balance and inclusion that serve the aims of democracy (everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone’s voice is equal) better than simple votes alone (tyranny of the majority).

Sadly, Editorial coverage didn’t seem to progress past the sound-bite level. The Press proclaimed:

[Sharples’] latest offering was to describe the principles of “one vote for one person” and “democratic elections” as artificial political concoctions. … But to criticise cornerstones of our democratic system of governance does a disservice to the pioneers of electoral reform in Britain and New Zealand

The Dominion Post editorial (quoted on Kiwiblog) is similar, thundering:

[Democracy is] a concept which millions, including New Zealanders, have given their lives to defend, and a concept that has to be defended against muddled thinking as well as evil doing. Into that first category must be put Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples’ recent musings on the nature of democracy. …

Both of these editorials simply assume that Sharples is proposing ditching the principle of “one person one vote”, but I think (as above) that he was arguing that it is necessary to build on this foundation with other mechanisms. But like a game of “Chinese whispers” Sharples’ comments kept disappearing under further layers of interpretation until we end up with the likes of…

Dr Sharples said the idea of “one person, one vote, was an artificial concoction” used to block Maori votes.

… which misrepresents what was said completely. However, Sharples himself shares as much blame as anyone for this superficial discussion. His own sound-bites after the speech did him no favours:

“There is a democratic process but it’s not working for Maori, they are outside of that system,” Sharples says.

Given the existence of the Maori Party and its role in government, and given the long standing links between Maori and the Labour Party, it is clearly nonsense to claim that Maori are “outside the system”. Sharples may have been expressing his frustration at the lack of outcomes that the Maori Party is achieving in government, but there he should look to blame his coalition partner. Under a Labour government Maori would have had representation on the Auckland council.

14 comments on “One person one vote”

  1. Lew 1

    Someone in his position should not be accepting the Brash/One Nation frame that mana whenua representation is antithetical to “one person, one vote”. It’s not. But he’s bought that hype, and tacitly admitted that it is. The response from the establishment is as predictable as it is simplistic. For this reason, he should have just left it well enough alone, held his nerve, and kept his support squarely in behind the flawed but functional system we have.

    L

  2. You have cut out the relevant section in your quote r0b.

    “Ngāti Whatua’s actions over 150 ago, express the deep structure of kaupapa Māori, a set of beliefs and values which are as relevant today, as they were at that time. The concept’s of ‘powhiri’ to welcome and ‘kaitiakitanga’ caregiver, guardian, ensured that the tribe had a role to protect and assist their ‘manuhiri’ settlers. The value of ‘kotahitanga’ unity and inclusiveness ensured that Ngāti Whatua would offer land and assistance to the settlers; while the concept of ‘manaakitanga’ care, and assistance, ensured that the tribe would befriend and embrace the new population in the new town.
    It seems that these Māori principles that guaranteed that Auckland could survive and grown, would be far more important, even in today’s times than such artificial political concoctions such as ‘one vote for one person’, or ‘democratic elections’ which were the principles that were cited to decline the two seats on the super-city council.”

    the one person one vote line was used as a contrast because that was some of the rationale used to reject maori representation in auckland and sharples was comparing the traditional maori concepts against the newer ‘democratic’ ideals of one person one vote. It was a specific example for a specific circumstance.

    the beat up around this is valid because sharples is spraying comments like a geyser and IMO he has to stop and keep quiet. Better for him to build defenses against the smart but smarmy operator jones.

  3. Neil 3

    “Under a Labour government Maori would have had representation on the Auckland council.”

    they did have 9 yrs to instigate such a change but didn’t they were also responsible for the FSA which they still think was a brilliant idea.

    what makes you think they would have gone for Maori representation? Since they never did when they were on govt.

    • Lew 3.1

      I think it’s a fair bet. Labour wasn’t quite so inclined to ride roughshod over a Royal Commissions as Rodney Hide.

      L

  4. Peter 4

    In my humble opinion Dr Sharples is a well meaning fool.

    • Galeandra 4.1

      Your humble (?) opinion, of course, a reflects a thoughtful reading of the subtleties of this post, rather than a nodding acquaintance via the ignorant opacity of the mainstream media?

  5. Bill 5

    “‘one vote for one person’, or ‘democratic elections’ which were the principles that were cited to decline the two seats on the super-city council. The Māori kaupapa were principles that promoted ‘equity’ and ‘inclusiveness’, surely the ideals of a ‘civilised’ society. We must begin to recognise that democracy has many expressions, many ways of mobilising voices and representation, rather than statically holding onto dominant axioms.”

    So what is the problem here? He’s saying that…

    ‘one vote for one person’ does not promote equity or inclusiveness. True.

    that, democratic elections (representative democratic structures) do not promote equity or inclusiveness. True.

    That equity and inclusiveness are hallmarks of a civilised society. True.

    That democracy can be expressed in many different ways. True.

    Summarising that our current axioms (representative democracy) do not deliver outcomes that that satisfy reasonable measures of democracy in terms of equity and inclusiveness.True.

    • Ag 5.1

      The problem is that New Zealand, like most other democracies, refuses to countenance any critical thought about democracy. This is a shame, since the increasing “democratization” of social institutions hasn’t always worked.

      I thought this quote was funny: “a concept that has to be defended against muddled thinking.” It is never adequately defended or discussed and the muddled thinking is almost all mindless rhetorical attacks of the kind directed at Sharples. A mature and critical appraisal of democracy just isn’t possible in New Zealand.

      I also find it amusing that many critics of religious faith exercise the same sort of faith towards democracy.

      • Bill 5.1.1

        heh- The problem is that Russia, like most other East European countries, refuses to countenance any critical thought about communism. This is a shame, since the increasing “communalising’ of social institutions hasn’t always worked.

        Why is it that in the case of Russia we are able to perceive that their system was informed by a hypocritical pile of propaganda that served elites well but that paid not much more than lip service to genuine communist aspirations…no more than was required to keep the population in check.

        As there, so here.

        Except that they did eventually have the discussion but got our system imposed on them for their troubles instead of the freedom and democracy that they wanted.

        When we have the discussion there is no other obvious caricature to be imposed. So maybe freedom and democracy will result. Which is why the discussion will not be granted and will have to be forced.

        • Ag 5.1.1.1

          Good one.

          I guess we think alike then, since I’ve made the exact same comparison with the communists myself, although I can’t remember quite where. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on this blog.

          “When we have the discussion there is no other obvious caricature to be imposed.”

          Yeah, I’ve said this one myself too. The “Emperor’s New Clothes” was never more relevant than it is now.

          I guess that at some point, mirth is the only remaining response. Ah weel…

  6. SPC 6

    He should argue for an allocation of Maori seats on local bodies – based on the electoral roll. Thus if Maori would have 2 seats based on population share and half are on the General roll they get one Maori seat on the council – voted for by those Maori on the Maori roll.

    Thus Maori representation within the one person one vote constraint.

  7. Rich 7

    Actually, I thought it was one person, 1.5 votes if you live in Rodney, and only one vote if you live in South Auckland.

  8. Descendant Of Smith 8

    What’s wrong with following the principles in the treaty of partnership and reasonable co-operation.

    Both these aspects could be maintained and enhanced in our political systems by having an equal number of Maori seats to non-Maori seats. this can be done without changing the one man one vote principle.

    Until 1945 we didn’t have a one man one vote system anyway. Rural areas got additional nominal seats.

    In 1866 there were 70 MP’s with no Maori seats, in 1871 there were 78 MP’s with 4 Maori seats.

    Clearly the number of seats is quite arbitrary. Even under MMP the number of seats can vary depending on the outcome of the election.

    Even increasing the seats to 15% to represent the population share would be a big leap forward. That would make 16 Maori seats out of 120.

    I’m certainly not afraid of giving Maori a fairer political representation.

    It’s a bit difficult to have a partnership when the political representation is so imbalanced.

    • SPC 8.1

      There are a range of issues here.

      First the share of population and share of voting age population.

      Then, if one declares a proportion of the population are Maori – – on what basis do others decide someone is Maori.

      The current system whereby people are on the Maori roll is the best option available.

      Thus the 20 Auckland council seats – and how many in Auckland are on the Maori roll of the total resident population (1 or 2 seats?). Nationwide 7 or 8 or 9 Maori seats, as time goes by. But it’s not a proportion of 120, but a proportion of the electorate seats (the MP operates in the party list area of course).

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