The MMP electoral system was introduced in 1996, and at the same time the number of Māori electorates was increased. With these changes, Māori political parties gained more opportunities for representation.
Mana Māori Movement
From 1993 to 2003 the Mana Māori Movement represented Māori interests to the left of Mana Motuhake. It incorporated two other political parties: the Piri Wiri Tua Movement which was based around the Rātana movement, and Te Tawharau, founded on Ringatū Church principles. Other even shorter-lived parties around this time were Mauri Pacific (‘Spirit of the Pacific’), led by ex-New Zealand First MP Tau Hēnare, and Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata, led by Alamein Kopu, an ex-Alliance Party MP.
National’s first Māori MPs were Rex Austin and Ben Couch, elected in 1975, followed by Winston Peters (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi) in 1979. Couch was minister of Māori affairs in 1978. When National regained power in 1990, Peters became minister of Māori affairs. He was later dismissed from cabinet for publicly disagreeing with National Party policy. Peters won the Tauranga electorate in 1993 as leader of his newly formed New Zealand First Party.
The so-called ‘tight five’ (a term referring to rugby forwards) were five Māori members of the New Zealand First party (Tau Hēnare, Tukuroirangi Morgan, Rana Waitai, Tutekawa Wyllie and Tuariki Delamere) who won all the Māori seats in 1996. Two years later their party leader, Winston Peters, was sacked from cabinet and went into opposition. Wyllie remained with New Zealand First and Delamere joined the small Te Tawharau party. Hēnare, Morgan and Waitai formed a new party, Mauri Pacific, together with two former New Zealand First MPs, Jack Elder and Ann Batten. None was successful in the following election and the party disbanded.
New Zealand First
Under Winston Peters’s leadership New Zealand First won all five Māori electorates in 1996 and held the balance of power, entering the first MMP coalition government. Peters retained the general electorate of Tauranga and 11 New Zealand Party list MPs entered Parliament. After the 1999 election New Zealand First decided not to stand candidates in the Māori seats, as it favoured their abolition. In 2008 support for the party fell below the 5% threshold required for minor parties without an electorate seat, but in 2011 Peters and seven other New Zealand First candidates returned to Parliament after the party won 6.6% of the party vote. In 2014 the party's standing improved and it won 8.7% of the party vote and 11 seats. In 2015 Peters won the general electorate of Northland in a by-election, giving his party 12 MPs. In 2017 Peters lost Northland but was returned as a list MP with eight colleagues. The party entered government in a coalition with Labour that was supported by the Greens. In 2020 New Zealand First won just 2.6% of the party vote and no seats.
The sense of grievance felt by Māori over their customary rights to the foreshore and seabed was the catalyst for the first pan-Māori political party to successfully contest the general elections. Co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples led the Māori Party (later Te Pāti Māori) to capture four of the Māori electorates in 2005, five in 2008, and three in 2011. After the 2008 and 2011 elections the party signed a confidence and supply agreement with National and in both its leaders became ministers outside cabinet in the National-led government. Similar arrangements were made in 2014 but only co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell became a minister outside cabinet. From 2014 to 2017 he was one of only two Te Pāti Māori MPs. Both were defeated in 2017, but in 2020 two Te Pāti Māori MPs were elected.
Tariana Turia (Ngāti Apa) first entered Parliament in 1996 on the Labour list. In 2002 she won the Te Tai Hauāuru seat and continued as a Labour MP until May 2004 when she refused to support Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. She resigned from both the party and Parliament and forced a by-election in her electorate. She was re-elected as the Māori Party co-leader. Turia has held ministerial portfolios in both Labour and National-led coalition governments. She retired from Parliament at the 2014 election.
Pita Sharples (Ngāti Kahungunu) became an MP after winning the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate for the Māori Party in 2005. In 2010, as minister of Māori affairs, he signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on behalf of New Zealand. He stepped down as co-leader of the Māori Party in 2013 and retired from Parliament at the 2014 election.
Hone Harawira (Ngāpuhi) led the hīkoi (protest march) opposing the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 which launched the Māori Party. In 2005 he was elected as the party’s MP in the Te Tai Tokerau electorate. He was re-elected in 2008 but resigned from the Māori party in February 2011 (after being suspended from its parliamentary caucus) following his criticism of the party and its relationship with National. After resigning from Parliament, he was re-elected in a by-election in June 2011 as the leader of the Mana Party.
Mana, a left-wing party committed to improving the social wellbeing of Māori as part of a socialist programme, also attracted a number of non-Māori activists. At the 2011 election Harawira retained his seat but remained the Mana Party’s sole MP. In the lead-up to the 2014 election Mana entered into an alliance with the Internet Party, but Harawira lost his seat to Labour's Kelvin Davis and Mana was out of Parliament. The alliance was dissolved.