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With Progressive Politics on March in New Zealand, Maori Minister Blazes New Trails – The New York Times



Nanaia Mahuta entered New Zealand’s Parliament as the youngest Maori woman to ever gain a seat. More than two decades later, she has become the country’s minister of foreign affairs, another trailblazing first. So when she was asked at a recent news conference about another woman of color breaking barriers halfway around the world, she broke into a wide smile.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, she said, “will bring, I’m sure, some very unique attributes to their leadership.”

“I’m not sure I’m in a position to give her a message,” Ms. Mahuta added, her eyes bright with possibility. “But what I can say, as the first woman representing the foreign affairs portfolio in Aotearoa, New Zealand, is that we will do what we must do in the best interests of our respective countries. I know we will have many opportunities to share areas of common interest, and I hope we can.”

Her excitement reflects a global desire among progressives for a shift away from the chauvinist, right-wing populism that has shaped the past four years in the United States and other countries that elected leaders like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Victor Orban in Hungary.

New Zealand offers what many see as the world’s most promising, if tiny, alternative.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern coasted to re-election last month in a landslide that gave her Labour Party the country’s first outright majority in decades, the remote island nation cemented its position as a beacon of hope for those seeking an anti-Trump model of government led by charismatic women and functioning with an emphasis on inclusion and competence.

With a victory over Covid burnishing her image, Ms. Ardern and her team now face a surge in expectations. After three years of leading a coalition government that produced few, if any, lasting policy achievements on major issues like inequality, Labour now has the votes to pass what it wants, and the diversity other progressives long for.

Labour’s newly elected majority is made up mostly of women. It also includes the New Zealand Parliament’s first member of African descent, Ibrahim Omer, who is a former refugee from Eritrea. The 120-member legislative body also has 11 lawmakers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; a dozen people of Pacific Island descent; and 16 Maori members.

It is, by far, the most diverse Parliament the country has ever seen, reflecting New Zealand’s demographics and its place within the broader Pacific Islands.

“It’s a really tectonic outcome,” said Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University, which is based in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Credit…Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald, via Associated Press

Ms. Ardern’s executive council, sworn in this month, includes a mix of well-known allies. She named Grant Robertson, the finance minister, as her deputy prime minister, making him the first openly gay lawmaker to have that role. She also appointed several members of Maori and Pacific Island descent.

Ms. Mahuta, 50, was the biggest surprise.

She arrived in Parliament at the age of 26 with a master’s degree in social anthropology after working as a researcher for her Tainui tribe in the lead-up to its historic treaty with the government that settled land claims from colonization. Her father was the lead negotiator; the Maori queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, was her aunt.

But rather than seizing the spotlight, Ms. Mahuta burrowed into briefing papers.

No-nonsense. Measured. Honest. Those were the words that trailed her as she moved through various roles. As associate environment minister, she navigated complicated negotiations over water rights between her tribe and the government. As local government minister, she was often sent to calm disputes over issues ranging from doctor shortages to dog control. While serving as customs minister, she worked closely with exporters and helped forge agreements with Japan and other countries to streamline trade.

In her new role, she is expected to focus on organizing Covid-safe tourism across the region while expanding economic links with other Pacific Island nations and Australia.

David Cunliffe, a former Labour Party leader who worked with Ms. Mahuta for nearly two decades, called her promotion to foreign affairs an inspired choice.

“She’s someone who seeks progress without necessarily seeking fame for herself,” he said. “All that hard work has now been recognized.”

Credit…Ben McKay/Australian Associated Press, via Reuters

In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Mahuta said she had not sought the foreign affairs job — “though it was on my long list,” she said — and had been surprised by the offer. She said she jumped at the chance to build New Zealand’s international reputation while working closely with “our Polynesian family across the Pacific.”

The region has become more important and more closely scrutinized in recent years as China’s influence and investment have increased.

American officials say Ms. Mahuta and her team — the defense minister, Peeni Henare, is also Maori — will be welcomed throughout the region as cultural equals and as a strong counterweight to Beijing.

Ms. Mahuta’s elevation is also being celebrated in the Maori community, which represents 17 percent of New Zealand’s population, even as her rise has revived old cultural divides.

In 2016, she became the first woman in Parliament to display a moko kauae (a sacred facial tattoo). But when her foreign affairs promotion was announced, a conservative New Zealand author tweeted that the tattoo was inappropriate for a diplomat, calling it “the height of ugly, uncivilized wokedom.”

New Zealanders quickly rallied to Ms. Mahuta’s side.

“This isn’t simply a win for ‘diversity,’ although it certainly is; it’s also a triumph of history and politics,” said Morgan Godfery, a political commentator who writes about Maori politics. “Ms. Mahuta is one of the most senior members of the Maori King Movement, the 19th-century resistance movement that fought against the invading New Zealand government, and her appointment to that same government’s foreign ministry is a signal of just how far this country has come.”

And, yet, for any government, appointments alone are only the beginning. As is the case in the United States, Ms. Ardern’s team faces serious domestic and international anxieties. Climate change threatens everyone and everything. The economy is struggling, with Covid-19 exacerbating inequality as housing prices continue to rise beyond the reach of the middle class.

Credit…Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Oliver Hartwich, the executive director of the New Zealand Institute, a center-right research institute, said Ms. Ardern needed to be bolder, overhauling education to create more equal outcomes and changing the tax structure to create incentives for local governments to approve new housing construction.

“They are not willing to rock the boat and do what needs to be done,” he said. “There are a lot of announcements and not much follow-up.”

Mr. Cunliffe, the former Labour Party leader, said the governments of Ms. Ardern and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. both faced the need to be transformative while bringing along skeptics. Populism, he said, can be defeated only with progressive results that benefit supporters and critics alike.

“You don’t beat it by one day at the ballot box,” he said. “You do it by using the power of your office to address the root causes that led to it in the first place, and if you don’t, it will be back again in four years’ time or three years’ time.”

Ms. Mahuta agreed. She said she hoped that solutions for “reimagining what prosperity looks like” can be transferred from the Indigenous community, with values like manaakitanga (Maori for looking after people) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment).

“Addressing issues of economic inequality is a significant challenge for many countries,” she said. It’s time, she added, “to cut through the old way of doing things.”

Credit…Dave Lintott/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth to launch political party –



His political prospects appear bright following a vacuum created by the deaths of Jayaram Jayalalithaa, an actor-turned politician with the governing party in the state, and Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the leader of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party.

Cinema has always influenced Tamil politics by turning actors into popular politicians.

C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi were scriptwriters who went on to become chief ministers. M.G. Ramachandran, a top actor-turned-politician, also had a strong following.

Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, Rajinikanth worked as a bus conductor for three years before joining an acting school. He started in small roles as a villain in Tamil cinema and worked his way up, landing roles in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai.

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan also tried his hand in politics as a member of India’s Parliament, representing the Congress party in support of his friend, then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in the 1980s. He resigned after three years following allegations that he accepted bribes in the purchase of artillery guns. His name was later cleared in the scandal.

Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press

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COVID-19 doesn't care about politics –



Remember the Team Canada approach to fighting COVID-19, the one where political parties would put the collective fight above partisan interests? Remember “we’re all in this together?”

That was all so yesterday. Today, there is very little non-partisan co-operation between federal parties. And Canadians, too, have become increasingly partisan and divided.

It was probably all inevitable, but it’s unfortunate, nonetheless.

Partisanship has entirely replaced bilateral co-operation in Ottawa. The government stands accused of flubbing Canada’s vaccine program. Because of that mismanagement we are at “the back of the line,” according to federal Conservatives.

It is true that the government, and especially the prime minister, have been unnecessary vague about vaccine delivery and rollout details. It is not true that we are at the back of the pack. Canada was the fourth country in the world to strike an agreement with Pfizer, one of the vaccine producers. It was one of the first to sign up with Moderna, another producer.

Moderna co-founder and chair Noubar Afeyan, who came to Canada as a refugee from Beirut before he moved to the U.S., says this country is in good shape. In an interview with CBC News, he said “Canada’s not at the back of the line,” adding “Each of the contracts we negotiated — and Canada was among the first to enter into a supply arrangement with Moderna — is individual, and of course the people who were willing to move early on, with even less proof of efficacy, have assured the amount of supply they were willing to sign up to. I know in the case of Canada their number is about 20 million doses.”

It is fair to criticize the Liberals for their communication to date around vaccines, but it is not factual to claim Canada is at the back of the line. However, that is a good example of how partisan strategy has replaced the collaboration that was a welcome feature of the pandemic’s early days.

It is also true that Canada will not get vaccines as quickly as countries like the U.S. and U.K., where vaccines were developed and produced. This country doesn’t have that production capacity. It did at one point. There was publicly owned Connaught Labs, which was privatized under the Mulroney Conservative government in the ’80s. Later, the Harper government cut research and development spending and other pharmaceutical companies closed shop and moved elsewhere. Now that capacity is largely gone, and it needs to be replaced, urgently.

A similar partisan divide exists among Canadians overall, according to recent opinion polling data. In general, Liberal and NDP voter respondents in several different polls were more likely to be primarily concerned about the health impact of COVID-19, while those who identified as Conservative were more likely to be concerned about the economic and business impact. According to polling by the Angus Reid Institute, 89 per cent of respondents who voted Liberal, NDP or Bloc reported regularly wearing masks, while 71 per cent of Conservative voters reported doing the same.

Interestingly, one poll by Leger suggests many Canadians are not so concerned about getting the vaccine at the same time as the U.S. or U.K., where vaccines are produced. Forty-eight per cent said that they were “not that concerned” and feel “a few months won’t make much of a difference,” while 37 per cent said they are worried that we won’t get the vaccine at the same time.

The point that matters most is this: COVID-19 doesn’t care about our political leaning. It is an equal opportunity virus. And that should unite us more than anything else.



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SIMPSON: If pettiness of politics around Surrey feels familiar, there's a good reason why – Surrey Now-Leader



If you had to describe Surrey’s political climate in one word, which would you choose?

Divisive? Too easy.

Defective? Depends on whose side you’re on.

Dysfunctional? You can’t argue with that, can you?

Anybody who follows municipal politics in our area knows that for a journalist, the city council beat can be a particularly juicy one, especially when presented with the right mix of contentious issues and strong personalities.

Stories about certain council members’ inability to deal with disagreements like grown ups are nothing new. Just say the word ‘pencil’ down near White Rock’s City Hall and see what reaction you get.

And over the years, our newsroom has been privy to many tips and tidbits about our elected officials. Some were worthy of publication, while others were… well… definitely not.

Somebody’s sleeping with someone’s husband.

These two are dating.

Somebody’s a home-wrecker.

These two were photographed coming out of a hotel together.

These two were caught making out in the back of a car.

But the gossip isn’t always sexual (although it’s disturbingly common) – so-and-so hit ‘like’ on a Facebook post that made fun of a fellow slate member.

Wait. We actually did that story and I got yelled at for it.

Anyway, you get the point.

OUR VIEW: We expect integrity from leaders

The politics surrounding Surrey has gotten too nasty and too personal – and it can make it difficult to stick to the issues.

In the past few months, we’ve told you about attack ads featuring doctored photos of councillors. We’ve shared full exchanges from chambers that would tell you all you need to know about the pettiness on council.




Fake photos.



Enough, already!

OUR VIEW: No time for childish spats, Surrey council

Consider the response we received after we asked a councillor if it’s fair to publish an attack ad if it uses doctored photos and inaccurate quotes.

“I can’t answer that,” was the terrible answer he gave.

Does any of this feel familiar to you? If it does, there’s a good reason why.

Let former U.S. President Barack Obama explain.

“More than anything, I wanted this book to be a way in which people could better understand the world of politics and foreign policy, worlds that feel opaque and inaccessible,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic about his recently released book.

“It’s interesting. You’re in high school and you see all the cliques and bullying and unfairness and superficiality, and you think, Once I’m grown up I won’t have to deal with that anymore. And then you get to the state legislature and you see all the nonsense and stupidity and pettiness.

“And then you get to Congress and then you get to the G20, and at each level you have this expectation that things are going to be more refined, more sophisticated, more thoughtful, rigorous, selfless, and it turns out it’s all still like high school.”

That it does. That it does.

Beau Simpson is editor of the Now-Leader and can be reached at

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