How we vote: talking politics with parents

How we vote

Some people vote like their parents; others chart their own political paths. We asked five Aucklanders how their parents might have influenced the way they’re voting in this election.

Same same

A functional democracy looks luxurious when you’ve experienced the other side.
By Faisal Halabi

My mother is telling me a story from my childhood that I have never heard before. It’s from when we lived in Iraq, in October 1995, and Saddam Hussein was holding the first presidential election under his rule. He had been in power since 1979, after a series of violent military coups. Mum tells me how I was dragged along with her, my dad, and my uncles and aunties as they went out to vote. To do so, you had to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question: ‘Do you approve of Saddam Hussein being the President of the Republic of Iraq?’

The problem was, this wasn’t an anonymous ballot. “They would watch who you voted for, and took your photo accordingly,” my mother says. Those who voted ‘no’ would face punishment down the track: food coupons might be cut suddenly, a trip to the hospital might be more difficult, or you would have to wait in line at the bank that much longer – anything that involved paperwork where your name had been recorded as a ‘no’ voter.  Voting booths were open for two hours on election day. Saddam Hussein went on to win that presidential election with 99.96 percent of the vote. “Ya election ha tha?” my mother asks me. “What sort of election is that?”

I was only five years old, so I have no memory of that election. But my parents’ experiences of politics colour my views of our political system. They grew up in a dictatorship, my brother and I did not. Spats about where a campaign t-shirt has been made, or who blocked who on Twitter, appear moot when you’ve voted with a government official breathing down your neck. It’s not that those debates are insignificant. It’s just that my parents’ experiences – and the fact that my mother still has family living in Mosul – give these seemingly petty arguments perspective, something that eludes most of us a lot of the time.

“It’s so comfortable here,” Mum says. In a system like we have in New Zealand, she continues, regardless of the government in power, leaders will run the country with similar baseline principles. “The government is always going to be fair, transparent, and good to the people,” she says. It is effective to have an election in a democracy because the leadership has to listen; it is not effective to have an election in a dictatorship. Nowadays in Iraq, “nogrof lesh mako election,” my mother says: “We know why there was no election.” By instilling a system of government that a society has no prior experience with, power vacuums arise. “Now, it’s like a jungle there.” Whoever comes along nowadays runs Iraq the way he wants to, and this is largely determined by the centuries-old conflict between the two factions of Islam – Sunni and Shia Muslims. These two factions battle one another and use government as a tool for that end. The decades of rule by Saddam Hussein (himself a Sunni Muslim) as dictator did not leave room open for argument. Dissenting voices were simply quashed.

Mum – now a New Zealand citizen after moving here in 1996 – isn’t sure of who she’ll vote for in this year’s election, but there are issues that are important to her. Given that our family home is in Bucklands Beach, it’s no wonder when she exclaims: “the transport!” Auckland’s transport infrastructure doesn’t seem to have changed since we arrived, Mum says, and there’s no way it can fit the growing population.

The second issue is immigration. “That’s important, too,” she says. I ask her, are there too many immigrants coming into New Zealand? “New Zealand beeha majal,” she says: “New Zealand has room.” The more immigrants you let in, the more they allow a country to build up, she adds.

What about refugees? “Why don’t they make it easy for them?” Mum asks. The government doesn’t seem to be interested in exploring new ways to answer the refugee crisis, she adds. We both sit silently for a moment. She continues: other than transport and immigration, everything else appears to remain the same. Maybe she’ll vote for the opposition this year, she adds, to see if a new government changes that feeling of same-same. “But it’ll stay comfortable here, like it always is,” she mumbles, and gets up from her seat.

Mum continues with her story about that October in 1995. She explains that by then, she and Dad had decided it was time to leave our family home, our extended family, and the warped systems of government in Iraq that were unfolding around us. The next chapter for Iraq was clear to my parents. “War in, war out,” Mum says. In February 1996, my parents, my brother, and myself arrived in New Zealand as immigrants. In 2002, Saddam Hussein held the second election under his rule in Iraq, winning 100 percent of the vote. The following year, the so-called War on Terror rolled into Iraq and he was gone. Almost half a million Iraqis are estimated to have died since that conflict began.

I thank Mum for sharing her stories and perspectives and, as the words come out of my mouth, I realise I never thank my parents enough.

First-time voter

A family voting pact comes unstuck at the last minute.
By Lana Lopesi

The topic of politics was fairly common in my home when I was growing up. Not because my parents deliberately made it that way, but because my Dad, every night, without a doubt, watched the six o’clock news. And as we know, the media loves a good political story. So, naturally, my discourse around the political landscape of Aotearoa was mediated through my father’s mumblings, judgements and reservations.

My family is a healthy combination of educators and labourers. My grandparents, who have both recently retired, gave their careers to education, one as an educator and advocate for deaf education, and the other as a principal in a low-decile primary school in west Auckland. Whatever party stood for the fairest possible education system won their vote. The other key question that swirled in our household was what party would best serve not our family, but the Pacific community as a whole.

I remember my first election vividly. My parents, my sister and I sat in the lounge discussing what we were going to do with our votes. Dad made sure to let us know that if he wanted to vote for what benefited him the most (he meant tax cuts) he would vote National but, having come from a lower socio-economic family, he had to ensure he wasn’t just serving himself. So, Mum and Dad devised a plan, which was to give their electorate votes to the Labour candidate and their party votes to the Greens. They encouraged me to vote the same. But their real intentions were to make sure I wouldn’t have a freak-out in the booth and make a split-second change.

We all went up to our local polling station together. At Bruce McLaren Intermediate School, I slipped my first-ever ballot into the box. Back at home, Mum was quick to verify that she had stuck to the plan. But Dad was very quiet. It turned out that he had voted for New Zealand First.

I always thought he succumbed to the adrenaline of the booth, but when I asked him about it for this piece, he claimed he was always going in with the New Zealand First party vote, and that he just didn’t tell very many people. Judging by our family’s reaction to this omission, I can understand why.

Political spice

When your parents have very different political views.
By Julie Hill

My parents have been together for roughly 100 years, but it’s unlikely they would have swiped right on each other. Mum was a bohemian; Dad was in the armed services. She was a committed Catholic; he was a non-committal Protestant. And they never told us how they voted, but it was pretty bloody easy to figure out.

JULIE HILL: Have you and Dad always voted differently?

BEVERLEY HILL: We certainly have! I’ve always been a Labour person and your Dad’s always been a National person because of him being in the Air Force, and the services were always supported by National. But just in the last year he hasn’t been quite so enamoured of National. People not quite appearing to tell the truth, the Todd Barclay saga, he hasn’t liked that. So he’s been looking at different policies and different people for the first time.
Another thing we clashed on was the Springbok tour. He wanted the tour and I didn’t. It was suggested [by the Air Force] that if the wives were to go out and protest, it would not be looked on favourably. And there was a chance he might have had to fight the protestors, so we couldn’t get out on the street because we might have met him coming the other way!

Do you think it’s socially acceptable to ask people who they vote for?

In the group of friends we’ve got, we kind of know who’s going to vote for who. But we’ve never come outright and asked them.

Why not?

In our generation we just haven’t moved on enough to feel comfortable to come right out with it.

Did your parents tell you how they voted?

It was never spoken about but I knew who Dad voted for – Labour – because he was always making his views known. His parents would have voted Labour too because they lived in a small town, and were working-class people, and that’s really who the Labour Party stood for in those days.

Are you going to vote Labour this year?

I was disappointed when Andrew Little made his call on immigration [to reduce net migration by up to 30,000 a year]. But now Jacinda’s there, I have great hope, and she and Kelvin Davis, I think they’re a great team. But I’m also very interested in a lot of the Greens’ policies, so I’m a bit torn. And now we’ve got Gareth Morgan too. He wants to slash taxes on the higher salaries, I think that’s good. And he wants to implement a proper climate change policy, and get polluters and commercial water users to pay for water. I’m interested in that.

Who was your favourite prime minister?

David Lange, for his stance on the nuclear free issue, and I also remember Norman Kirk as being a strong, solid, passionate person for the underdog.

Is it weird to have different political views from Dad?

No. I knew that when I married him. It has created discussion more than anything. Spiced things up a bit, you might say.

Family traditions

Wondering whether to vote the way your parents did.
By Liam Ratana

It is 2014. I am 18 years old, walking into a polling booth inside one of the decrepit, uninviting rooms above the quad at the University of Auckland. I am mulling the possibilities of breaking a long-held family tradition. Growing up, my father was a staunch supporter of the left, mainly Labour. His parents voted the same way. But on this day three years ago, I find myself disillusioned with New Zealand politics. The Greens seem too far left and Labour too far right, with the outrage of the Foreshore and Seabed issue lingering over the party. Winston is too racist and too busy showboating for me to pay any attention. Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom are in bed together. So too are National, the Māori Party, and John Banks.

I have done my research, taking numerous election quizzes and polls, reading up on policy, list placements and more. I have been considering breaking the family tradition of voting red by voting green. However, two days out from the election, a rumour circulates that the Greens might be willing to work with National. This throws me completely. I think of my late father, who taught me that the Crown found its wealth on the back of stolen land and forced labour. He told me that politicians should be held accountable. Most importantly, he taught me how to constantly question the status quo: to not believe everything you read, hear, or see.

He had reason to be cynical, of course. The government has been alienating Māori and fragmenting hapū since the establishment of the Native Land Courts in 1865. In order to have voting rights, Māori were forced to individualise their collective shares in land. The Crown, acting as both party and judge in Treaty claims, continues to insist on dealing with ‘large natural groupings’, such as central North Island iwi in Treaty claims. It is easier than having to hear the claims of every whānau or hapū. Labour’s track record with claimants is not any better, but at least they aren’t rushing claims through the process.

Despite this, my Dad continued to support Labour, partly because of his belief that the party would one day return to its origins of being the party for the working class. Perhaps now, in 2017, with Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis in charge, the transition back to the left has begun. Could Labour once again be the party for the people?

Back to the booth in 2014, I’m still confused. Why would I want to participate in a system that has kept my people oppressed since its inception? Is voting an endorsement of that system? If I don’t vote, am I simply allowing the system to continue as it is? I feel backed into a corner. I resort to following the example set by my father, and his parents. I give two ticks to Labour.

My vote doesn’t help: National will receive a whopping 47 percent of the total party vote; Labour barely manage 25 percent. I will have no choice but to wait another three years, and hope that something changes by then.

I believe my Dad would have understood my choice. I think he would have been happy to see me vote. He understood my disillusionment, and he also understood that you must make peace with the system. I will never forget him saying to me, “there’s no point standing outside yelling. You’ve got to have a foot in the door for them to listen to you. It’s good to believe in something.”

And so we arrive at the crossroads of any politically conscious person – either participate in a system that you disagree with wholeheartedly, or sit back and pretend not to care. Either way, you are trusting the system to fix itself. Maybe one day it will. Maybe.

Marching out of time

Political changes through a paternal lens.
By Karyn Hay

This is a snapshot of my Dad’s story, and the cycles and circles of life. I only came into it during the late 1950s, and can remember our house was very noisy when it came to politics. While we may be born into a family and influenced by them, we add to that our own experiences at the coal face.

The playground. Tauranga District School. My Dad is eight. The population of New Zealand is 1,642,000. It’s election year and the first Labour government has been in power since 1935, the year Dad was born. Peter Fraser is the Prime Minister and Sidney Holland is the Leader of the Opposition. It’s lunchtime in the playground and Dad’s just had his cold meat and tomato sandwiches. The boys are divided into two groups, one chanting, ‘National! National!’, and the other, ‘Labour! Labour!’

The National boys all come from the surrounding farms while the Labour boys are the worker’s kids. My Dad’s family are farmers from  ōtūmoetai. They can’t understand those ‘Labour buggers.’ They’re as blue as they come.


The wharves. Auckland. My Dad is 16. He’s left school and gone out labouring. The population of New Zealand is 1,930,482. Two years ago, after 14 years in office, Labour was finally ousted by the first National government. Sidney Holland is the Prime Minister and Walter Nash is the Leader of the Opposition. National have swept in on a promise to ease post-war restrictions and to confront the militant unions head on. Down at the wharves the biggest dispute the country has ever seen is in full swing. Twenty-two thousand wharfies and workers are on strike, crippling the supply lines of the country. In the Cold War atmosphere, where commies and reds are reviled, the “communist wreckers” – as Holland calls them – are regarded with hostility, even by Labour.

Left! Right!

Waitoa Dairy Factory. My dad is 28. He’s a milk tanker driver. The population of New Zealand is 2,566,900. The second Labour government ruled for a single term from 1957 to 1960, but were defeated by the second National government three years ago. Keith Holyoake is the Prime Minister and Walter Nash is the Leader of the Opposition. Dad’s married – into a Labour family. He’s working at the Waitoa Dairy Factory. The pay’s good, and he’s got a wife and a couple of kids to look after now. The dairy factory is in the Piako electorate in the Waikato. They reckon you could put a sheep up as a candidate and it would get in, as long as it was blue.

Dad joins the Dairy Workers Union.


Social club. Tauranga. My dad is 81. He’s back home now. The population of New Zealand is 4,604,871. It’s election year and the fifth National government have been in power for nine years. Bill English is the Prime Minister and Jacinda Ardern is the Leader of the Opposition. Dad’s at the social club, standing in line for the buffet. The food’s pretty good. You can get a roast, or have cold meat and salad. Twenty bucks, all you can eat. Later, Big George will belt out ‘You come on like a dream, peaches and cream, lips like strawberry wine,’ and the dance floor will be fully occupied by couples who will jive around it with military precision. The old boys have a beer and sit round the table muttering ‘National, National.’ They can’t understand those Labour bastards. They’re as blue as they come.

My dad keeps his counsel.