Māori Election Petitions of the 1870s: Microcosms of Dynamic Māori and Pākehā Political Forces
Māori election petitions to the 1876 Eastern Māori and the 1879 Northern Māori elections were high-stakes political manoeuvres. The outcomes of such challenges were significant in the weighting of political power in Wellington. This was a time in New Zealand politics well before the formation of political parties. Political alignments were defined by a mixture of individual charismatic men with a smattering of provincial sympathies and individual and group economic interests. Larger-than-life Māori and Pākehā political characters were involved in the election petitions, providing a window not only into the complex Māori political relationships involved, but also into the stormy Pākehā political world of the 1870s. And this is the great lesson about election petitions. They involve raw politics, with all the political theatre and power play, which have as much significance in today’s politics as they did in the past. Election petitions are much more than legal challenges to electoral races. There are personalities involved, and ideological stances between the contesting individuals and groups that back those individuals. Māori had to navigate both the Pākehā realm of central and provincial politics as well as the realm of Māori kin-group politics at the whānau, hapū and iwi levels of Māoridom. The political complexities of these 1870s Māori election petitions were but a microcosm of dynamic Māori and Pākehā political forces in New Zealand society at the time.
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