Maori politics riven by turmoil

By Garth George


While I have never been comfortable with having a political party founded solely on race, I have to admit to being rather sad that the Maori Party seems to be headed to oblivion.

I doubt it can survive the retirement of its founding co-leaders, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, whose immense and well-deserved mana in Maoridom has ensured the party's continuance until now.

After all, the party was reduced from five to just three members at the election in 2011, and when Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples bail out, only Te Ururoa Flavell will be left of the original team.

Mr Flavell is expected to be named as co-leader at next weekend's party conference in Whakatane, although there will be no one to be co-leader with.

Mr Flavell, the MP for Waiariki, is a decent and hard-working parliamentarian, but his pressure on Dr Sharples to resign and to hand over the co-leadership will have made him no friends among Maori electors.

As Dr Sharples said when he announced his resignation: "It's clear that the leadership issue and the processes around that have taken a toll on the Maori Party, and our people ...

deserve a unified Maori Party."

The results in Waiariki at the 2011 election indicate that Mr Flavell's seat is by no means safe. His majority dropped alarmingly when Mana Party challenger Annette Sykes collected 5768 votes to Mr Flavell's 7651.

In fact, the only electorate that seems safe for the Maori Party next year is Te Tai Hauauru, held by Mrs Turia, but how much of that vote relied purely on her personal mana and will desert the party when she retires remains to be seen.

Dr Sharples' Tamaki-Makaurau seat, which he won last time with fewer than 1000 votes, is wide open.

Labour's charismatic Shane Jones will probably stand there again and his mana, too, is high.

In the other four Maori electorates, the Maori Party has no chance.

In three of them Labour is firmly in control and, as the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection indicated, will stay that way.

Te Tai Tokerau should stay in the hands of the Maori Party renegade and Mana Party leader, the loud-mouthed radical Hone Harawira, and that's not surprising.

His electorate in the north contains a large number of Maori families who are more seriously disadvantaged than most.

Mr Harawira insists that his former party's failures are not the result of Dr Sharples' leadership but arise from its "subservient, docile and overly deferential relationship with National".

"That's the problem and that's why the Maori Party are going down in the polls," he told Radio New Zealand.

That attitude I find hard to understand.

After all, it was National's Sir Douglas Graham who gave political impetus to the settlement of historic Maori claims, and National has continued that process ever since.

Labour simply followed the path laid out by Sir Douglas.

National also did what had to be done to solve the vexed question of the foreshore and seabed after Labour legislated the matter in a manner unsatisfactory to Maori.

There have been several other important issues, such as whanau ora, which can be put down to the Maori Party's arrangement with National.

It is a mystery to me why people such as Mr Harawira cannot understand that it is much better to have one's nose in the tent, no matter what colour it is, than to be left outside in the cold with no political clout whatsoever.

Dr Sharples has probably left his resignation too late, and his decision to hang on to some of his portfolios will further hamper Mr Flavell's succession.

The new leader needs as much time as he can get to stamp his authority on the party.

I fear 16-odd months is just not enough.



- Bay of Plenty Times

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