Who should immigrants vote for?

I just received an email from an old friend who now lives in London with the subject line: “Any recommendations on who to vote for?”  This came after my sister asked me last night, “how does one decide on whether to vote for National or Labour?”

“National's colour is green right?… oops no, that's National Bank”

I then asked my sister what's the first thing you think of when I say National? “John Key”

She could be the odd one out. On more than one occasion, I have been asked by migrants: “Is John Key National or Labour?” Apparently, my sister's friends at uni like the Greens because they have cool posters. I like their billboards too, not too sure about their policies, but yeah, they have nice artwork.

It got me thinking, how do people decide who to vote for? This question is particularly relevant for immigrants who have limited experience of New Zealand politics. Even more so for migrants who don't understand the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. And what if you don't have much experience with the democratic process?

In many countries, politicians do not necessarily think of themselves as the people's representatives, forgetting that the real bosses are the people who put them there.  In any case, in more corrupt democracies (oxymoron?), election results can be rigged.  As such, perhaps many immigrants may not understand the power in their hands.

In this article, I attempt to answer the frequently-asked-question “who should I vote for?” with a 5-point checklist for migrants.

For those of you too busy to read the long version, please scroll to the bottom of this article for a 3-point shortcut version that is applicable to Europeans, Maori, Pasifika, Asians and migrants of every ethnic group.

1) Register to vote.

This is first base. If you're not registered to vote, you can't just turn up to vote. Last day to enrol is 7 November (election next day on 8 November).  In New Zealand, even permanent residents are entitled to vote, not just citizens. Many PRs have told me they didn't realise that. You have to be 18 years or older and have lived in New Zealand for one year or more without leaving the country.

2) Understand the New Zealand electoral process.

Each voter has two votes …

… a party vote and an electorate vote.


Your party vote …

… helps decide how many seats each party gets in parliament. 

The government will be formed by one or more parties with the support of enough seats to win important votes in parliament.

Parliament is currently made up of 62 general and 7 Māori electorate seats, plus 51 seats allocated from party lists, giving a total of 120 seats.

Your electorate vote…

… helps decide who becomes your local MP. 

Each electorate has a different selection of candidates to choose from.

Electorate candidates can include independents and candidates from parties not contesting the party vote. 

The candidate who gets the most votes wins the seat.

(Source: Elections website)

Most migrants understand the electorate vote, but many migrants have no idea what the party vote is. The party vote is critical because every vote goes towards a pool and at the end of the day, they work out the % of votes each party obtained. This is roughly the % of seats the party will have in Parliament.

More details can be found on the elections website.

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3) Decide what is important to you

What are you most passionate about? Education? Student loans? Economy? Health etc?  

What would you like to see changed? What are you absolutely certain about?

You want to choose a candidate/ political party that fights for what you believe in. BUT you would not be able to find a single candidate or party who would agree with you 100%. This is why you have to decide on what is important, and what you can compromise on. 

There are 2 main political parties in New Zealand. The current Government is led by the Labour Party (under Helen Clark). Polls indicate that National Party has a good chance of winning. Then again, last time around, the polls said the same thing, and Labour Party still managed to form government. Look through the political party websites to see what they stand for. 

National Party: http://www.national.org.nz/About/standsfor.aspx

Labour Party: http://www.labour08.co.nz/policies/

There are many other minor political parties including New Zealand First, Maori Party, Act Party, Greens etc. You can google them.

4) Check out the candidates and parties.

Find out who is standing in your electorate. Attend political talks and debates. You can look at the political party websites to see where the next seminars are. A good source of information is your local community newspaper (eg. Central Leader), which advertises the upcoming political debates, rallies and seminars.

Keep up with the elections news. TV and newspapers are the traditional sources of information. Check out the blogs too. Google Blogs: elections NZ

One of the great things with living in this country is seeing ordinary folk walking up to MPs, complaining about footpaths being too narrow, high food and petrol prices and schools not teaching enough maths, languages etc. What's more amazing is how attentive politicians are, even when it's not election season. Do not be afraid to talk to politicians and ask hard questions. Don't worry. No one will laugh at your English.

Just because you're Asian doesn't mean you need to vote for an Asian. In fact, the pakeha guy may be more Asian-friendly than the Asian 🙂 Similarly, European New Zealanders shouldn't be afraid of voting for Asian politicians. This relates to the previous point: What is important to you?

5) Go with your heart.

The messages voters get are really confusing. It's very hard even for born-and-bred Kiwis to decide on who to vote for, let alone migrants. Ultimately, after having done your research, you will then need to decide on which candidate or party that is closest to your ideal.  

Perhaps one reason I get asked by migrants who to vote for is because they are trying to seek confirmation that the candidate/party they have chosen is the “right one”. The fear is that because they don't understand the New Zealand political process, perhaps there's the risk of choosing the wrong party (say one which is anti-immigration).

My personal view is that both the main parties are not that far apart policy-wise.  Although I have decided on who to give my party vote to, I don't think it's the end of the world if either of the big party forms government. 

As for my electorate vote, I'm still having a tough time deciding between Richard Worth and Rodney Hide. 

p/s: Don't ask who I'm voting for. I'm not saying 🙂

Who to vote? The 3-point version

OK you're here because you're too lazy to read my 5-point checklist, let alone do the research, so the shortcut way to decide on who to vote for is to:

1) Find 5 friends/family members who share similar values with you

2) Ask them who they are voting for and why

3) If you agree with their views, go with the majority vote.

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.