New Zealand: will far more Asians vote in 2011?

Poor turnouts before. Yet, they constitute 20% of Aucklanders, and 10% of  all Kiwis.  Will they vote en-masse next time?

Just over 60% of Asians voted in 2008, a paltry showing by national standards.  The total turnout was 79.46% (down from 80.92 in 2005).  Asians keep their heads down, don't seek to rock the boat, concentrate on family, education and economic betterment.  Their representation in the current parliament is disproportionately small, amounting to only 5% of all members - the lowest percentage of all ethnic groups.  

Although the population will have risen sharply in the past five years, people of Asian ethnicity counted in the 2006 census included (numbers have been rounded):

148,000 Chinese
104,000 Indians
  31,000 Koreans
  17,000 Filipinos
  12,000 Japanese
    9,000 Cambodians
    8,000 Sri Lankans
    6,000 Thais
    5,000 Vietnamese
    4,000 Malays
    3,000 Afghanis
    3,000 Indonesians
    2,000 Bangladeshis
    2,000 Eurasians
    2,000 Pakistanis
    1,000 Lao

Some have been in New Zealand for generations, the first Chinese arriving in the 1860s.  Yet the vast majority are recent arrivals or their descendents.  Numbers have grown dramatically since 1990:  for example there were only 426 Koreans in the country in 1986, today the total is well over 30,000.  Aside mainland China and India itself, migrants originate from places like Fiji, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  They include Indians from Fiji or Africa, Tamils from Sri Lanka, and Chinese from Vietnam or Malaysia.

There are no Asian front-bench Labour or National Party spokespeople. Patsy Wong, an ethnic Chinese born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong became New Zealand's first Asian (National) MP in 1996 rising to Minister of Ethnic Affairs in the National-led Coalition 2008-10.  She resigned from parliament amid allegations of misusing travel perks for private use.  

Other political spokespeople from the Asian community are less well known, nor particularly well-regarded.  

So Asians in New Zealand are apparently starting to feel as though their concerns about the economy, their own security and other issues are not being adequately addressed.  Following well documented physical attacks on vulnerable Asians, law and order has been of increasing concern, for example.

So, the New Citizen Party was founded by businessman Paul Young in 2010, contesting the Botany By-election in 2011 caused by Patsy Wong's resignation.  Young stood, coming a respectable third with 10.56% and pushing the ACT Party into fourth place on 4.46%.  Given that a third of Botany's electorate was born overseas, and that it has a large ethnic Chinese population, it's unsurprising Young did well.  But his party's first foray into politics was quite successful, particularly given the brevity of the time between the party's registration and the by-election date of March 5th.

TV3 devoted a section of its weekly current affairs programme The Nation to the Asian vote issue last weekend.  While informative it reached few clear conclusions. Yet the potential influence which could be weilded by this sizeable community was obvious.

The formation of the Māori Party in 2004 heralded the arrival of ethnically-based political parties in New Zealand.  It was founded to solve issues of concern to Māori and to address grievances.  While it doesn't contest general roll electorates (constituency seats), sticking instead to the voluntary Māori roll, it has set a notable precedent.

It's unclear whether Young and his New Citizen Party could ever achieve traction.  But its existance will stir the Asian population, potentially increasing the size of their turnout and achieving greater influence over future policy in the big-tent parties.  Manifestos will have to deal directly with Asian concerns, and more Asians will need to be elected to parliament and city councils.  

Already, ACT has made a plea directly to the Asian vote by issuing a newsletter in Chinese.  That ploy was lambasted by National and the media for its content (seen as alarmist) and its boldness.  But the trend is set.  If Asians are to be wooed then more Asian candidates will have to be selected or placed on party Lists.  And Asian concerns will have to be resolved.

Whether more Asians will vote in November remains to be seen.  But it's likely they will - they must have realised by now that they're too numerous to ignore.


There are 120 members of the House of Representatives.  The list of political parties in New Zealand includes:
  • National Party, centre-right, 58 seats, leader John Key
  • Labour Party, centre-left, 43 seats, leader Phil Goff
  • Green Party, environmentalist centre-left, 9 seats, co-leaders Mitiria Turei and Russel Norman
  • ACT Party, classic liberal free market centre-right, 5 seats, leader Don Brash
  • Māori Party, centrists concentrating on Māori issues, 4 seats, co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples
  • United Future, centrist Christians, 1 seat, leader Peter Dunne
  • Progressive Party, left wing, 1 seat, leader Jim Anderton
  • Mana Party, left-wing party based around Māori nationalist policies broadening its appeal to the issues of the wider poor, 1 seat, leader Hone Harawira
  • New Zealand First, populist centrists, 0 seats, leader Winston Peters
  • Conservative Party, right of centre, 0 seats, leader Colin Craig.
Update 10 November 2011:  Paul Young is standing in Botany for the Conservatives at the 26 November general election.

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