Harawira has reason to worry
After Saturday's by-election in Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira can rightly claim that he - and his new party - 'have the mandate' to be sitting in the House (see nzherald). After all, 48.5% of the vote in an electorate isn't bad at all...
But wait... Back in 2008, Harawira got 60% of the electorate vote. Even allowing for the much lower turn-out last Saturday, that's still a huge loss of personal support for him. In other words, as a Maori Party member in 2008, he received a much stronger mandate from his constituency than he seems to have right now.
And let's not forget that Labour received a much larger party vote in that same electorate in 2008 than did the Maori Party (for which Hone was then standing). It now looks like a large number of Maori Party supporters have forsaken their party last Saturday in order to try to prevent Hone from winning. So, the results show that they weren't successful (this time) in keeping him out, but the warning-message for Harawira and the new Mana Party is loud enough.
Labour must be thinking that Te Tai Tokerau is now winnable in November. Looking at the polling-booth results, Harawira has stronger backing in the obvious places, like Ahipara, Kaitaia and most of Kaikohe. Davis, the Labour candidate, has some wins in urban booths and in (I don't know why) Kawakawa.
More fundamentally, then, Harawira has not nailed down the urban working/beneficiary sections of the electorate that he needs if he is to firmly establish himself (and his party) as a working-class and beneficiary advocate. Labour still has a strong footing there.
But there must be personal loyalties at work too. Much of the voter support on Saturday for Harawira surely came from whanau and wider tribal loyalties to him and his family, especially in Whangarei and points further north. On the other hand, many voters would have been turned off by Hone's frequent gaffes, and many urban Maori voters won't have the same kinship connections.
My diagnosis? That Harawira and the Mana Party have only a thin mandate now in one Maori electorate, but they do not yet have a mandate to represent wider Maori or working-class New Zealand. If they can't win such support in the near future, their tenure in the House will be limited.