Sunday, June 04, 2006

Minority vs Power

Asian electoral participation conference proceedings

About 100 mainly-Asian people attended this conference in Auckland on 12 July 2005 to discuss Asian participation in New Zealand's electoral system. Keynote speakers voiced their concerns and issues on civil participation by sharing their experiences and opinions with the wider public.
The conference was sponsored by the Electoral Enrolment Centre with the aim of encouraging Generation 1.5 Kiwi Asians (Asian-born, NZ-raised) to enrol to vote.
The event attracted people from various age groups, including the 1.5ers, as well as first and second generation Kiwi Asians. Attendees were from diverse backgrounds - Asian grassroot organisations, local and central government, students, academia, and 1.5 generation members. Also present were members of non-profit organisations and Asian news media who gave the conference significant coverage.
This document summarises the keynote speakers' contributions. The summaries have been approved by the contributors. The views expressed are each contributor's own and not those of the Electoral Enrolment Centre, other electoral agencies, or the government.
The conference was facilitated by Gavin Ellis, media consultant and former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald.

Manying Ip
Associated Professor, School of Asian Studies, the University of Auckland
Manying Ip was born in Guizhou, a remote interior province of China, where her parents had taken refuge after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. While she was still young, her family returned to Hong Kong. There she received traditional Chinese education at home, and English education at school. She graduated with a BA Honours in history from the University of Hong Kong. In 1974, Manying immigrated to New Zealand and completed her postgraduate studies, gaining an MA in Chinese literature and a PhD in History from the University of Auckland, where she is currently Associate Professor of Chinese in the Asian Studies Department. Professor Ip is a long-time researcher on Chinese New Zealanders and more recent immigrants from Asia. She is a highly respected public advocate for the Chinese communities. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993 and the ONZM (Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit) in 1996. Many of her works including four books on Chinese New Zealanders have won much critical acclaim: Home Away From Home: Life Stories of Chinese Women in New Zealand (1990), Dragons on the Long White Cloud (1996), Unfolding History, Evolving Identity: Chinese in New Zealand (2003), and a recent bilingual work: Aliens at My Table: Asians as New Zealanders see them, co-authored with Nigel Murphy (2005). Her research project New Chinese New Zealanders 1986 - present, was made into a television documentary New Faces Old Fears which won a Finalist Qantas Award in 2004. The articles she published on the new Chinese have been widely cited. Her current research is on interactions between Maori and Chinese.

Asian political involvement and the role of 1.5ers.
There has been a significant increase in Asian population and changing profiles of the communities in the last decade. The post 1987 arrivals is a well-educated, articulate, and politically aware cohort. According to Statistics New Zealand 2001 Census data, 70% of the Chinese immigrants, 59% Indian, and 92% Korean are new arrivals with less than 10 year's residence in New Zealand. They belong to the highly skilled professionals and business class - the bourgeoisie who are the backbone of democracy. This has raised the popular desire for more ethnic candidates and Asian MPs in the parliament.
There have been incidences politicising the Chinese communities. For example, the 1993 'Inv-Asian' article, the 1996 pre-election anti-immigrant campaign and the 2002 poll-tax apology. Positive outcomes of these events have empowered the communities. There also have been positive shift of power relationship to rapidly heighten ethnic political awareness. Legislation such as the 1993 Electoral Act allowing provision of interpreters in the polling booth and the 1996 electoral law giving permanent residents the right to vote all facilitated the political involvement of new Asians.
Following on the law changes, direct participation was attempted through new experiments in the political arena such as Asian minority coalitions. However, in 1996, the Ethnic Minority Party pulled 0.12% of the national vote and the Asia Pacific united Party gained only 0.002% of the national vote. This demonstrates the fact that parties along ethnic lines are not a panacea.
Contributions of 1.5 generation of Asian New Zealanders play crucial roles in the shift of power relationship and political landscape. For example, a study of the link between age and English language skills among recent Chinese migrants shows that younger Asians are mostly proficient in English, and therefore much more au fait with New Zealand political developments. With language proficiency (in their heritage Chinese language as well as English), political acumen, local knowledge and support from their own community network, the 1.5 generation of Asian New Zealanders have the advantages in positioning themselves as quality leaders in the mainstream society to articulate the aspirations of both old settlers and new immigrants.

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