23rd September, 2014
MP Jenny Latu Salesa has become the first Tongan to enter New Zealand Parliament following Saturday’s election.
The Labour Party MP said she was humbled by the result and would like to thank the voters of Manukau East who have given her their votes.
She won the election contest at the electorate by 11,318 votes while the first runner up National’s Kanwal Bakshi has 3,923. Salesa was born and raised in Tonga before migrating to New Zealand.
The first MP to be listed by New Zealand Parliament and Labour Party in 2008 as of Tongan descent to have first entered parliament was Carmel Sepuloni. Sepuloni was born and raised in New Zealand and known to many as Samoan but she is Tongan through her paternal grandparent.
“I’m really, really humbled that over 15,000 people of Manukau East gave me their vote and their confidence, and I will be advocating strongly on behalf of the people of Manukau East,” Mrs Salesa told APNZ.
She ran a determined campaign from a sparse fale situated behind the incumbent Labour MP Ross Robertson’s electorate office in Otara and conceded Manukau East had always been a “very strong Labour seat”. Two-thirds of voters in the electorate gave Labour their party vote in 2011 and Mr Robertson held the seat since it was formed in 1996. The 46-year-old former policy analyst has two daughters aged under 10.
Although they don’t yet live in the electorate, Mrs Salesa said they had been looking around Otahuhu. They were living in the United States for almost 10 years when they left in 2011 wanting to “come back and contribute, give back to New Zealand”, she said.
Her motivation for standing came from the disappointment of seeing poor outcomes for Maori and Pasifika people, she told APNZ.
“When we left New Zealand, you saw the stats, you saw the educational statistics, you saw unemployment rates and I was hopeful that when we came back things would be better … they’re actually worse.”
During her time in the US, Mrs Salesa said she volunteered for Obama’s election campaign which taught her how to recruit volunteers and keep them interested.
Mrs Salesa said from her door-knocking and conducting “hundreds of street corner meetings” throughout the electorate, she had learned that housing was “the number-one issue for Manukau East”.
At this year?s election, National won by 48 per cent of the party vote and will hold 61 seats in the 121-member parliament.
Prime Minister John Key will work through support agreements with ACT, United Future and the Maori Party, the three allies that have been with National since 2008, to form a stronger government.