While the nation waits to see what emerges out of the National Party’s leadership-crisis, and the impending vote due this afternoon, for Kiwi-Indian community the bigger question - and which will not be answered this afternoon for sure - is if the two Indian-origin MPs return to parliament after September elections.
In that respect, the two Kiwi-Indian MPs will be facing the first major and real challenge for their survival in their political career in this country, because till now, once after getting into the list of a Party with the reputation of the biggest caucus in recent times, their march into the parliament has been largely ceremonial - riding on the Party votes.
Both of the current Kiwi-Indian MPs - Kanwaljeet Singh Bakshi & Dr Parmjeet Parmar - entered into the parliament again, riding on National’s lower to mid 40 per cent votes.
The List MPs in the New Zealand parliament system solely depend on the Party’s total votes.
In the last elections, National had a total 44.4 per cent party votes along with 40 electorate MPs on the election-night that allowed the Party to take another 15 List MPs in the parliament.
In the 2017 elections Party List, Mr Bakshi was placed at 32 and Dr Parmar was placed at 34 rank, which remains largely unchanged - and a cause of worry for their own political future.
In fact, National’s rock-solid forty plus percentage votes in the preceding decade has ensured a seemingly effortless struggle of our Kiwi-Indian MPs for political survival in a country where not many had a political career spanning more than a few electoral cycles.
Make no mistake, this is not to under-value the individual passion and commitment and of our Kiwi-Indian MPs for politics, which the Indian Weekender had always admired, but just to make a humble submission that often List MPs are not faced with the existential crisis that many electorate MPs often have to endure to win elections years after year.
The position of List MP often has to play a bigger role in connecting the wider audiences to the Party than working in a manner to ensure their own electoral battles along with serving their political parties.
Regardless of the debate around the efficacy of the List MPs in New Zealand parliament, it is pertinent to say that seldom do they have to face such a cull in open public glare.
The National Party as of now is surely undergoing through a cull, with two disastrous poll results that have wiped down 17 per cent of its votes, which has largely remained intact in almost around two decades.
Last time when the National Party was hovering low at 29 per cent was when it was languishing in opposition under Sir Bill English in 2003, which eventually set the way for a leadership change bringing in Don Brash, a former top honcho who had just joined the caucus in the preceding 2002 elections.
In that respect, it seems that the National Party has come full circle where another top honcho is giving run for money to a career politician for the leadership position (if Tod Muller’s leadership role in Fonterra and Zisperi and Simon Bridges post crown-prosecutor role in politics, neatly fits into that definition).
However, regardless a peek into the history of the Party’s leadership crisis, what is clear is the fact that at this rate, only 29 0r 30 MPs of its current 55 strong caucus are likely to return to parliament in next elections in September this year, and the major bloodbath will happen with its List MPs.
If most of the political commentators are to be believed then it is this lot of 15 List MPs who could be the switch votes, driven by the interest of their own respective political future, who could prove to be decisive in the leadership vote this afternoon.
However, regardless of who emerges victorious or unscathed from today’s leadership bloodbath, what will remain unchanged is the fact about National’s dismal polling at below 29 per cent - and this puts the position of our co-ethnic Kiwi-Indian MPs in jeopardy.
The Indian Weekender reached out to two of its MPs to get their comments prior to today afternoon voting and their views on the Party’s leadership crisis and their own political future.
What do our Kiwi-Indian MPs say about leadership-crisis and their own future?
Dr Parmjeet Parmar - the two time MP (based in Mt Roskill) declined to comment straightaway on some probing questions around these critically important issues saying that the caucus will vote as on previous occasions and everyone will come to know about the outcome by midday.
However, Kanwaljeet Singh Bakshi - probably displaying his four-term experience in parliament was more forthright in his interaction and cautiously revealed where his vote was on, in today’s leadership vote.
“This government does not have a plan for New Zealand’s economy."
“They have abandoned all their pet projects such as 10,000 houses every year or their dream rail project from Auckland CBD to the airport.
“Now they are saying that they will build 5000 state houses in next 5 years, they do not have a plan,” Mr Bakshi said.
On being further enquired about National low polling at 30 per cent and their own future as List MP Mr Bakshi said, “This government’s current popularity is just related to Covid-19 pandemic and its management in the last two months. This is a worldwide phenomenon where government’s dealing with emergency situations get public support.”
“However, the National Party has had a plan for New Zealand’s economy for the last two and a half years, and we will again go out and meet the public and talk to them about our plan for jobs and economic growth,” Mr Bakshi said before leaving.
It seems that Mr Bakshi by exhibiting confidence and using the words and pitch of the current leader Simon Bridges as displayed in the last few days since the leadership challenge became imminent, had inadvertently revealed where his vote will be in today’s leader
However, regardless of what transpires in today’s leadership vote, it is clear that both of our Kiwi-Indian MPs have probably for the first time in their political career entered into a phase of grave uncertainty with their Party’s dismal polling at 29 per cent.
Although, it is just the first polling after once in the hundred-year event of a global pandemic that has wiped National Party’s 17 per cent votes - for largely no fault of their own, expect their leader’s perceived resentful and negative attitude towards a super effusive and charismatic opponent in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Yet in politics, it is the perception that eventually matters.