Sunday, January 27, 2013
Mike Butler: Buying votes at Ratana
In late January every year, political party leaders join the pilgrimage to festivities at Ratana Pa at Turakina to try to buy votes, and this year was distinctive in that the pitches were blatant and unashamed. Prime Minister John Key told the faithful that National reached significantly more treaty settlements in the past four years than the last Labour government did in nine.
"They can turn up here at Ratana and tell you they love you, but they didn't love you enough to fix up your 113 houses," Mr Key said.
With 16 settlements completed, 17 awaiting legislation, total amount $1.07-billion spent, the Key government has eclipsed the previous Labour government total of 12 completed for a total amount of $411.9-million. But Key has now unwittingly clarified the purpose of his historical redress haste -- treaty settlements are to buy votes.
Why the annual Ratana media fest? January 25 marks the birthday of the Ratana religion founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, the self-styled mouthpiece of God, who was born on January 25, 1873. The Ratana gathering provides politicians, who are are shuffling off their summer sloth, a captive audience on which to test their messages for the forthcoming political year. This in turn enables reporters to find out what is current.
Labour Party leader David Shearer reminded the Ratana faithful this year of the 1935 alliance between Ratana and the Labour Party and said Labour would re-take seats held by the Maori Party. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei summoned up the spirit of cheap Maori Affairs houses of days gone by to outline her party's new housing package, including a rent-to-buy scheme.
Another message was delivered, not to Key, but Key would pay close attention to it.
Senior Ratana Church spokesman Ruia Aperahama said the writing was on the wall for Labour to become the next government, and told Shearer, that he hoped “that in 12 months' time that you and your government will be successful with a strong coalition that represents the various and varied viewpoints of Maoridom."
If Key has spent much of the past four years caving in to Maori Party demands, such as flying the Maori sovereignty flag, signing up to the United Nations Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Whanau Ora, and the push for a treaty-based written constitution, all that support he was depending upon appears likely to disappear.
That ebbing support was symbolised in Key's entry to the Ratana gathering for the first time without Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples. The ebbing support shows the folly of seeking to buy votes instead of presenting policy that would benefit everyone.
For those who may want a little background, the Ratana church is the most visible manifestation of a syncretic Maori Christian cult, marked by hymns and prayers glorifying Ratana as God’s “mouth-piece” with a message centering on Maori grievances. Founder T.W. Ratana was a Methodist Maori farmer who acquired a reputation as a visionary and faith healer.
The connection between Ratana and the Labour party goes back to the 1935 election of the First Labour Government, when the two Ratana MPs agreed to vote with Labour. This alliance was formalised with the Ratana movement joining the Labour Party in a meeting between Ratana and Prime Minister Michael Savage in 1936.
The Prime Minister was given four symbolic gifts: a potato, a broken gold watch, a pounamu hei-tiki, and a huia feather. The potato represented loss of Maori land (most of which was sold) and means of sustenance, the broken watch represented alleged broken promises of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the pounamu represented the mana of the Maori people.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia follows the Ratana faith.
at 2:53 PM