Winston Peters Shines, Ferris Advocates Maori Rights at Press Leaders’ Debate

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The evening’s political tableau opened with Winston Peters, NZ First leader, taking center-stage at the Press Leaders’ Debate. Launching into a searing criticism of Labour’s Chris Hipkins and National’s Christopher Luxon, he berated their conspicuous absence, a move departing significantly from the days of “first past the post”. Both Hipkins and Luxon has declined to join the forum previously, a fact Peters has frequently criticized.

The original debate was scheduled to be a bout between Hipkins, now in COVID-19 isolation, and Luxon, who has refused to proceed without his opponent. Peters then found himself engaged in verbal combat at the Christchurch Town Hall with other political leaders – Green Party’s Marama Davidson, Act’s David Seymour, and Te Pāti Māori’s Takuta Ferris, the stand-in for his unavailable co-leaders.

Unlike the politically charged, heated debates of the past, this faceoff was comparatively subdued. Each party leader seemed more focused on expounding their party policies to their potential voters rather than attacking their opponents.

Rising above the crowd was Ferris, a political novice yet eloquent orator who delivered stirring speeches on his party’s unflinching commitment to Māori advocacy. Sparks of camaraderie were also observed between Peters and Seymour, a far cry from their proven frosty past.

However, echoing past sentiments, Seymour maintained that Peters was still the least trustworthy politician in his eyes and stated his preference to collaborate exclusively with National.

Peters, in retaliation to rumors from National about the possibility of a second election, vehemently dismissed the speculation as pure scaremongering. “Stop it now and relax,” he offered candidly.

The debate saw several climate change protestors getting escorted out following their unfurling of a “Restore Passenger Rail” banner. The primary bone of contention among the parties was the foundations of wealth creation followed by its subsequent distribution.

Each party leader had their moments, with Ferris gaining support for his impassioned defense of Māori rights and Davidson earning applause for the Green Party’s wealth tax proposal. Among the more contentious issues broached was the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, with Davidson condemning the loss of life and calling for accountability on both sides.

Delivering an inflection of levity amidst the tension was Peters, the seasoned campaigner and master orator, who effortlessly won the audience with his comic timing and quick retorts.

The debate, of course, wasn’t bereft of heated discussions, with Seymour’s stance against co-governance and race-based legislations earning him applause. In stark contrast, Ferris articulated that such viewpoints were veering away from honouring the Treaty of Waitangi, a statement that won him even greater support from the crowd.

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