By Tamati Rimene-Sproat || @tamatiRS

Strong women.

It’s a tradition of the East Coast. 

Travel through the region and you’ll see the names of outstanding female ancestors immortalised in meeting houses. 

Many hapū are named after outstanding tīpuna wahine. 

It’s also where women are known to stand and whaikōrero.

So no surprise really that the candidates vying for the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate in 2017 are women.

They are the Labour incumbent, Meka Whaitiri; Māori Party Co-Leader, Marama Fox; and the Greens, Elizabeth Kerekere.

To be fair, the official line from the Greens is that they’re campaigning in the Māori electorates for the party vote only, so Kerekere won’t pose any threat to the profile and presence of Whaitiri and Fox. 

Whaitiri entered Parliament as the MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti in 2013, succeeding her former boss and mentor, the late Parekura Horomia. 

In 2014, she retained the seat with a healthy majority of close to 5,000 votes. 

Whaitiri has extensive experience in Māori governance. 

Her experience in that realm has seen her at the vanguard of a campaign against Te Ururoa Flavell’s controversial agenda to reform Māori land law. 

In this parliamentary term, the former national netball representative seems to have found her feet in the rough game of politics. 

But Marama Fox is a real threat to Whaitiri. Remember, Mana is standing aside in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti this election in favour of the Māori party. In 2014, Mana candidate, Te Hamua Nikora got 5,000 votes, Marama Fox, a relative unknown then, got close to 4,000. Combine the Mana Māori numbers and suddenly the game has closed up to less than 700 votes.  

And if crunching those numbers is over-simplifying the contest, then consider this: Marama Fox’s profile is markedly bigger than it was in 2014.

Fox is the Māori party leader co-leader. Her partnership with Te Ururoa Flavell, popularly known as the shark and the fox, seems to work well. 

And she has made her own mark in a short but eventful parliamentary career.

She shines in the media spotlight and is equally comfortable in either English or Māori. 

Her background will also appeal to many Ikaroa-Rāwhiti voters. She’s the mother of 9, still does kapa haka, her tāne is a shearer, and she’s worked in Māori education leadership roles. 

So the incumbent from Manutuke faces a real challenge from the co-leader from Wairarapa. Whaitiri may have a 5,000 vote buffer and an improved profile, but Fox can also lay claim to increased appeal.

It might come down to which way the Mana voters go. Which is fitting in a way - Ikaroa-Rāwhiti is all about mana … mana wahine!

(Aired on 25/09): It's a region with bountiful natural resources and a high Māori population. But as Tamati Rimene-Sproat reports, it's also an area blighted by serious social problems.

Ikaroa-Rāwhiti has long been one of Labour’s strongest seats thanks in part to Parekura Horomia’s legacy. Labour candidate Meka Whaitiri is looking to continue Labour’s legacy in the electorate as she battles against Marama Fox and Elizabeth Kerekere.

(Aired on 06/09): Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox is contesting the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate for her party. Although she entered Parliament by virtue of the party vote at the last election, Fox knows only too well that the vagaries of MMP doesn't guarantee a return as a list MP. The charismatic Kahungunu woman is covering the vast expanse of the electorate trying to show voters that she's a politician that walks her talk.