Asians staking claim for bigger role in New Zealand

October 27th, 2008 - 9:20 am ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Oct 27 (DPA) New Zealand’s Asian community - the fastest-growing group in the nation of just under 4.3 million - is poised to make its voice heard as never before in parliament after next month’s general election.The Labour Party - which is seeking a fourth consecutive three-year term in office - appears assured of at least two more Asian members of parliament, former Indian-origin race relations conciliator Rajen Prasad and Chinese journalist and lawyer Raymond Huo.

Both are on the Labour list, while the opposition National Party has hopes of returning Melissa Lee as the first Korean in parliament and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi as the first Sikh.

More than 350,000 people recorded Asian ethnicity at the 2006 census, just over nine percent of the population. Nearly 150,000 of them were Chinese, 104,580 Indians with 30,000 Koreans the next largest ethnic Asian community.

They will not be a huge bloc in parliament of about 120 seats, but will have an important profile, given predictions that the number of Asians could near 800,000, close to the estimated indigenous Maori population, within two decades.

Shanghai-born Pansy Wong, who grew up in Hong Kong before moving to New Zealand in 1974, made history when she became the country’s first Asian member of parliament in 1996.

She was elected, not in her own right, but on the list of the conservative National Party that won the election under New Zealand’s German-modelled proportional representation voting system.

Up to four other Asians could join current members Wong and Pakistani Muslim Ashraf Choudhary in the House of Representatives after the poll Nov 8.

Choudhary, the first Muslim MP, was elected on the Labour Party list in 2002.

Wong is now bidding to become the first Asian elected individually to parliament by winning the seat of Botany, Auckland, the country’s largest city and home to more than 236,500 ethnic Asians, according to the last census in 2006.

And to keep her on her toes, two other Chinese, Kenneth Wang, of the free-market ACT party, and Simon (Yang) Kan, of the Kiwi Party, are standing against her in the same immigrant constituency.

Strangely under the voting system it is possible for all three to be elected.

“There has never been an opportunity like this for the Chinese in New Zealand,” said Kan, a newspaper columnist.

“The Chinese candidates in Botany are not fighting each other, but are working with each other to achieve the same goal, but in different ways,” he said.

Korean-born Lee, a journalist who grew up in Malaysia and then lived in Australia before migrating to New Zealand in 1988, is on the Nationals’ list, while Bakshi, a businessman born in New Delhi who came to New Zealand seven years ago, is challenging a Labour veteran for the Auckland suburban seat of Manukau East, where immigrants make up 40 percent of voters.

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest immigrant metropolis with nearly one in five residents identifying as an Asian, about 40,000 of them ethnic Indians who migrated from Fiji following coups in the Pacific island nation.

Fiji’s military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama this week urged them to vote against Prime Minister Helen Clark and Trade Minister Phil Goff, who represent Auckland constituencies with large Asian populations.

New Zealand imposed sanctions on Bainimarama’s military junta, who overthrew Fiji’s elected government in December 2006, and Clark and Goff have urged him to hold fresh elections.

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