After two failed attempts to get into Parliament, The Opportunities Party has turned to an experienced local government politician for leadership.
The party’s board has appointed Raf Manji, a two-term former Christchurch City Councillor, as their new leader.
Most recently, Manji has been a prominent community liaison with the Muslim community in the wake of the March 15 terrorist attack.
Manji has stood for Parliament once before, running as an independent in Ilam in 2017, coming second with about half the vote of then-incumbent National MP Gerry Brownlee.
History is against TOP, with few new parties ever making it to parliament since the start of the MMP era. Despite that, he’s optimistic about the chances in 2023.
"I’m a bit of a number cruncher, so I look at the numbers and I think we’ve got a very good chance of getting five per cent, because there’s a lot of political orphans out there."
TOP argues for “deep structural change” in the economy, with Manji saying policies like a Universal Basic Income would help build a “more sustainable society”.
Manji will take over from interim leader and North Shore candidate Shai Navot, who stepped in after economist Geoff Simmons stepped down in the wake of defeat in the 2020 election.
Simmons himself was deputy to millionaire investor Gareth Morgan, who formed the party to contest the 2017 election. The pair had a tense relationship in the aftermath of the change, with Morgan believing the party should have been wound up after 2017.
However, Simmons says Manji has his full backing and expects him to be able to build on the work done in 2020.
“He has the economic and policy chops for the role and a solid grounding in politics. Even better, Raf has first hand experience of dealing with crises; from the Christchurch rebuild to the mosque shootings,” says Simmons.
Manji was born in Britain, and previously worked as an investment banker, saying in an interview with The Press that he left that career to “explore issues in the environment and human rights”.
An apartment owner with two adult children, Manji now lives in Wellington and is considering standing in Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson’s seat of Wellington Central.
TOP has traditionally performed well in the major cities, but their vote share in provincial electorates has been weak. Manji says the issues TOP will run on, including rapidly escalating house prices, are becoming nationwide problems.
“One of the advantages in coming from Canterbury is that I know a lot of farmers, and I want to get out and talk to them,” says Manji.
“Everyone’s interested in the future of work and income, interested in a flourishing environment, they’re interested in housing staying affordable, so that applies to everyone.”
He’s critical of the efforts made by the Government so far in preparing for that future of work, and is disappointed by what he sees as an approach of “incremental change and sustained moderation.”
Manji is not planning on changing TOP’s existing stance on coalition negotiations, saying the party would be happy to push their policies under either a Labour or National-led government.
“We want to kind of get rid of this left/right system because it just creates an unhealthy environment. What the public really want the basics sorted, they want outcomes and good solutions.”
He says around the world, politicians like Andrew Yang in the USA and the German Greens have impressed him for their future-focused policies and ability to work across the aisle respectively.