The Opportunities Party Leader Raf Maji is sort of like that international student who showed up in your Geology class one afternoon: you aren’t too sure who he is or where he came from, but he seems pretty cool and is giving all the other popular kids a run for their money. While TOP has yet to enter Parliament, this election season, Raf Manji has the potential to stage Aotearoa’s newest political upset.
Originally working for non-profits and volunteering with the Student Volunteer Army, Raf’s main motivation for getting into politics was due to the Christchurch earthquakes and the devastation that had shaken the place he called home. Raf was elected to the Christchurch City Council in 2013 as an independent councillor, and continued his political journey by standing as an independent candidate for Ilam in the 2017 general election. Raf decided to leave politics in 2019 to focus on working for the March 15th Response after the Christchurch Mosque Attack, but was approached by The Opportunities Party in late 2021. “I did have conversations with people about other parties, but what I liked about TOP was that it had a more independent and partisan approach to politics which is where my space is,” he explains. “With some of the other parties you feel like you have to give up a bit of your soul to join them, but with TOP, there’s a focus on outcomes and policy that works and a more collaborative approach to politics. The world is complex and not binary, and we need parties that can look at things like that.”
In terms of election atmosphere, Raf thinks that the current state of political affairs have left people in a state of “despondency,” and that major parties are lacking the vision required to improve things in Aotearoa. Relatable, Raf. “If you go back to 2017, it was potentially going to be a National Government, but Winston upset the apple cart and decided to pick Labour and go into confidence with the Greens,” he says. “When it came to Covid in 2020, things had shifted. New Zealand First had fallen out of love with Labour, they weren’t really talking, then the Jacinda wave came through and everyone thought she did really well. I think now we’re at the other side of that conversation and everyone is pretty hacked off with the government, so the pendulum is swinging,” says Raf. “I don’t think there is any great vision from the future… I don’t remember an election where people have been less politically engaged, but also more worried about the future.”
With election campaigning in full swing, Raf says that while people are feeling uninspired by what the major parties are offering, getting people to see the power of minority parties has still been a challenge. “I am having conversations everyday with people saying ‘Oh, we did the vote compass and came up with TOP, but we didn’t know much about you’. It shows people are open to other perspectives and ideas,” he says. “People are saying ‘I’d vote for TOP if you were in Parliament,’ and polling indicates we have the 8 to 10 percent party vote out there, but we can’t get there without those votes.” Raf also mentions that TOP’s commitment to bi-partisanship makes them a compelling party as they’re willing to be a progressive option that could work with National or Labour depending on the results that filter in.
So, with all this talk of despondency and dismissal, what exactly is TOP offering young people that other major parties aren’t? “We need to start to invest in our young people, and get an understanding of what it means to be a citizen when we’re going to face big complex challenges,” he says. One of TOP’s core policies is the Teal Card: similar to the Gold Card for retirees, but for young people. The card would assist with getting access and discounts towards health care, mental health support and public transport. Raf also mentions that TOP wants to create more financial equity for young people, as we’re often shut out when it comes to talk around home ownership and renting. “I want to push financial literacy, and make sure that every child gets an IRD number, a national health number, a bank account, a Kiwisaver account set up. I think if you get the first five years right, you’re on the road to success, and investing upfront saves money downstream,” he explains. In terms of his advice for young voters or those undecided this election, Raf kept it simple: “This election, don’t worry how it’s going to work out. It’s going to be pretty messy, look at the parties, and just vote.”