Interesting facts about Hamilton West and Upper Harbour
The electoral victory of two candidates, one each of Indian and Sri Lankan origin at the recently held General Election 2020 in New Zealand has proved a major point: that New Zealanders will go beyond ethnicity and other considerations and exercise their franchise and choose the right candidates.
This could be further tested in 2023, if Labour and National Parties field ethnic candidates against each other in select constituencies.
Although the final results of the election held on October 17, 2020 will be known only on November 6, 2020, the preliminary results have confirmed that Dr Gaurav Mrinal Sharma and Vanushi Sitanjali (nee Rajanayagam) Walters are the elected MPs respectively from Hamilton West and Upper Harbour (Auckland).
Both candidates defeated their immediate rivals from the National Party, creating electoral history.
Both constituencies have been the stronghold of the National Party.
Hamilton West: Bellwether Seat
Since its formation in 1969, Hamilton West is considered as New Zealand’s bellwether seat. In 17 of the 18 general elections held since that year, the Party (National or Labour) that has won the plurality of seats throughout the country has taken the Hamilton West. The only exception was in 1993, when the Labour Party won in this electorate, while the National Party won plurality of seats nationwide.
Dr Sharma defeated Tim Macindoe of the National Party with a margin of 4425 votes. He polled 16,950 votes, while Mr Macindoe, who had held the Hamilton West seat since 2008, took 12525 votes. The Labour Party also scored well in this Constituency (as it did in most others around the country), garnering 16,956 votes, compared to 8778 votes gained by the National Party.
This was the second attempt for Dr Sharma (he was unsuccessful in the 2017 election but increased the Party Votes by more than 11%). Mr Macindoe had lost this seat three times (1999, 2002 and 2005) before winning in 2008. He is unlikely to return to Parliament since the National Party has gained only nine List seats.
Upper Harbour: The Game Changer
The Upper Harbour electorate, formed in 2014, was with the National Party, held by Paula Bennett. Her retirement from politics (orchestrated by her ouster from Deputy Leadership of the Party on May 22, 2020) on June 29, 2020, created a vacancy, which was filled by Jack Bezzant, who had earlier, unsuccessfully bid for the Botany Seat (which was won by Christopher Luxon).
The Upper Harbour Constituency grew out of the erstwhile Waitakere Constituency. Following a review, the Electoral Commission announced the creation of Upper Harbour and Kelston.
Division of Waitakere
Ms Bennett was the incumbent of the Waitakere Constituency, which she won for the first time in general election 2008. In the 2011 election, she held the seat with just a margin of nine votes, defeating Labour Party’s Carmel Sepuloni following a judicial recount. Ms Sepuloni, born and raised in Waitara, is the first MP of Samoan, Tongan and European descent. She had been a List MP since 2008.
Ms Bennett contested from Upper Harbour and won in 2014 and 2017.
Ms Sepuloni has been elected from Kelston since 2014.
Soon after his nomination, Mr Bezzant had to face allegations relating to his earlier claim that he was the Founder of a parking company. The National Party leadership agreed that ‘there were some issues relating to his claim but accepted his position.’
Vanushi Walters polled 14,142 votes, while Jack Bezzant got 12,727 votes. The Labour Party received 15,250 votes, compared to National’s 10,489 votes in this Constituency,
Electoral redistribution, effected in 1972, significantly reduced the size of the Hamilton West Electorate, since all the rural land transferred mostly to the Raglan Electorate. Hamilton East Electorate was created simultaneously. Since then, Hamilton West has been mainly urban, covering the Western part of the City. The Waikato River divides the City in half and forms the boundary between the Hamilton East and Hamilton West Electorates. Hamilton West also borders the rural electorates of Waikato to the North and West, and Taranaki-King Country to the South.
Redistribution this year ceded the North of Borman Road, including Horsham Downs, to Waikato.
Upper Harbour covers the Northwestern reaches of Waitemata Harbour, stretching from Massey, in West Auckland through to West Harbour and Hobsonville and across to Greenhithe, Glenfield and Unsworth Heights on the North Shore.
Both Electorates comprise predominantly European population, followed by Maori and Pacific Islanders, with the Asian communities including Chinese, Indian and other Sub-Subcontinent countries accounting for about 25%.
About Dr Gaurav Mrinal Sharma
Dr Gaurav Mrinal Sharma is a General Practitioner by profession, who was, until his election as MP on October 17, 2020 in a high needs practice with over 12,000 patients. He was earlier involved in Public Health, Policy, Medicine and Consulting in New Zealand, Spain, USA, Nepal, Vietnam, Mongolia, Switzerland and India. He obtained his Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery degree from the University of Auckland Medical School and a master’s in Business Administration from The George Washington University in Washington DC where he was a Fulbright Scholar.
According to the Labour Party website, Dr Sharma was very young when his father moved to New Zealand from India.
“Dr Sharma and his family have always been thankful for the opportunities that were created for them by Labour policies in Social Security, Education and Health. This is what inspired Gaurav to join Labour, firstly as a Party member and later as a grassroots volunteer in 2014 and now a successful MP.”
Vanushi Sitanjali Walters
Born in Sri Lanka, Vanushi Sitanjali Walters (nee Rajanayagam) is the great granddaughter of Ratnasothy Saravanamuttu, a Member of the State Council of Ceylon and the first native Mayor of Colombo and Naysum Saravanamuttu, Ceylon’s second female MP. She migrated to New Zealand with her parents Jana Rajanayagam and Prithiva Rajanayagam when she was only five years old.
Ms Walters holds a bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Auckland and a master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. She has worked as a Human Rights Lawyer in private practice, public sector and not-for-profit organisations and was a Member on the International Board of Amnesty International.
Three generations of her family have lived in West Auckland, while her husband Rhys Walters, also a lawyer, was born and raised in North Shores. They live in Titirangi, West Auckland with their three sons.
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