Alamein Kopu

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Manu Alamein Kopu (1943 – 4 December 2011) was a New Zealand politician.

Birth and early life[edit]

Kopu was raised in Opotiki. Her family was not wealthy, and Kopu characterised her youth as containing "much hardship". In 1978, her family moved to Sydney, Australia. In Australia, Kopu became involved with[clarification needed] community programs aimed at drug users and prostitutes, something that she continued after arriving back in New Zealand in 1986. Kopu also had considerable involvement[clarification needed] in rehabilitation programs for criminals.

Political life[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate List Party
1996–97 45th List 12 Alliance
1997–97 Changed allegiance to: Independent
1997–99 Changed allegiance to: Mana Wahine

In addition to this work, Kopu was also involved in various Māori cultural and educational programs. She quickly joined Mana Motuhake, a political party based around promoting Māori interests and welfare. When Mana Motuhake joined with several other groups to establish the Alliance, Kopu became involved in the new organization. In the 1993 election, she stood as its candidate for the Eastern Māori, but was unsuccessful. In the 1996 election, the first to be conducted under the new MMP system, Kopu contested the Te Tai Rawhiti seat, and was ranked twelfth on the Alliance list. While she did not win Te Tai Rawhiti, the Alliance received enough votes for Kopu to enter parliament as a list MP.

Kopu gradually came under increasing criticism, having been unemployed for nearly two decades prior to her lucrative appointment as an MP and the 'backdoor' manner in which she was seen as having attained that position.[citation needed] This was compounded by her apparent lack of participation - many Alliance colleagues complained that she was rarely seen in Parliament, and believed that she was not doing sufficient work. Other causes of criticism stemmed from internal tensions between different factions of Mana Motuhake. Kopu resented the criticism, and voiced the possibility of leaving the Alliance.

In July 1997, Kopu finally resigned from her party. In a televised statement, she refused to talk in English and, speaking in Maori, blamed racist discrimination for her predicament, going as far as stating that "apartheid is alive and well in New Zealand".[1] When parliamentary services entered her electorate office it was missing furniture earlier allocated to her.[2] The police carried out an investigation and recovered the missing material. No charges were laid against Kopu.

The issue was also of particular relevance due to her status as a list MP – she had been elected to parliament by virtue of her position on the Alliance list, not through any votes she had received personally, and as such, many believed that Kopu had no right to remain in parliament. Moreover, Kopu (like all other Alliance MPs) had previously signed a pledge affirming that if she ever left the party, she would resign from parliament. Kopu had, in fact, reaffirmed this pledge only a few days before she quit. The leader of the Alliance, Jim Anderton, said that Kopu's actions "breach[ed] every standard of morality and ethics that are known".[3]

Kopu defended her decision by saying that she was only doing what was best for Māori. Upon leaving the Alliance, she also received strong support from several other Māori MPs, notably Tau Henare of the New Zealand First party. Henare, who had often criticised the Alliance's (and Mana Motuhake's) approach to Māori affairs, said that Kopu was welcome to join New Zealand First, although this was later rejected by other members of the party. Kopu quickly aligned herself with the governing coalition.

A hearing of parliament's privileges committee found that Kopu had not resigned from parliament, and that her pledge to the Alliance did not constitute a constructive resignation.[4] The dispute led to the introduction of legislation, the Electoral Integrity Act (2001) preventing what became known as waka jumping.

Independence[edit]

After spending some time as an independent, Kopu decided to establish her own political party, Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata. When she launched the party in October 1997, Kopu claimed to have 6,000 members.[5] The party was ostensibly based on promoting the welfare of Māori women. Many of Kopu's critics, however, claimed that the party was established primarily to ensure Kopu received more generous parliamentary funding. Mana Wahine became significant when, in 1999, the governing National Party found itself reliant on Mana Wahine's support (along with that of various former New Zealand First MPs). National, left with a precarious majority when its coalition with New Zealand First collapsed, needed as much support as it could find, and managed to obtain Kopu's backing.

In the 1999 election, Kopu stood as her party's candidate in the Waiariki electorate. Eleven other Mana Wahine candidates also stood. The party had also intended to submit a party list, but Kopu failed to submit it before the deadline. This eliminated the possibility of Kopu remaining in parliament as a list MP - she would need to win her electorate race in order to keep her seat. In the election, however, Kopu won only 1.7% of the vote in Waiariki, placing sixth. Moreover, the national vote for Mana Wahine candidates indicated that Kopu would not have been returned as a list MP in any case. Kopu lost her parliamentary seat.

Kopu died in Rotorua on 4 December 2011.[6][7]

References[edit]