Racial issues have become a hot button issue in New Zealand’s election despite assurances from former Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern that the country had moved beyond them.
A Coalition government is widely tipped to wind back race-based policies implemented by Ardern’s Labour government.
ACT leader David Seymour has said policies that purported to address inequality by giving preference to Maori only served to create inequality among the rest of the population.
Seymour has also said he would shut down the ministry set up for the advancement of Pacific people.
After Jacinda Ardern led her Labour party to a landslide victory in 2020, she prioritised the recognition of Maori as New Zealand’s first people.
Her government promoted “co-governance” or the sharing of some management between the state and indigenous people, pushed the use of Maori language in everyday life, and established the Maori Health Authority.
The Labour government has also set about financially compensating tribes for what it says was land stolen or misappropriated during British colonization.
But the ACT Party and New Zealand First claim many of the initiatives aimed at ending race issues have only served to heighten them.
The claim special rights for Maori people have undermined the foundational principle of equal rights for all citizens.
The government has rejected talk of winding back Maori rights in the name of equal rights for all citizens as just another form of racism.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins accused the opposition of “playing the race card”.
And Maori community leader Naida Glavish said talk of undoing race-based policies meant racism was “more overt” than it had been since Ardern was in power.
Polls predict that the National Party will win the most seats in the election but will have to form a coalition with one, if not two, minor parties to govern.
The National Party has said its preferred partner is ACT but is prepared to discuss partnering with NZ First.
Both the ACT and New Zealand First are up in the polls with the most recent survey showing they hold 18% of the vote.
Political commentator Ben Thomas said race had grown as an issue partly because the government had failed to convince the populace that co-governance was not “a Maori takeover of New Zealand”.