John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Confusion reigns for Maori Party

Pita Sharples has complicated things by not giving up his ministerial responsibilities. Photo / Mark Mitchel
Pita Sharples has complicated things by not giving up his ministerial responsibilities. Photo / Mark Mitchel

Renewal, regeneration, rebirth. No matter what you call it, no political party can escape it.

Even the cult of personality otherwise known as New Zealand First will one day have to confront the exit of its leader either through retirement or - given his innate reluctance to give up the good fight - eventual departure from this mortal coil. The seeming absence of any succession plan is likely to guarantee only one outcome in the weeks and months that follow Winston Peters' stepping down.

NZ First will disintegrate. That was the fate of the New Zealand Party back in the 1980s after some members rejected Sir Robert Jones' decision to disband the party and instead attempted to keep it going as a rival to National.

In both cases, the two leaders were bigger than the parties they founded. Pita Sharples was at pains to stress during his press conference yesterday announcing his resignation as Maori Party co-leader that no one individual is bigger than the party.

The problem is Sharples and Tariana Turia, who is sending mixed signals as to when she too will resign as co-leader prior to likewise quitting Parliament, have come to personify the party. Without them, the Maori Party is going to have its work cut out holding on to two of its three seats.

The danger is that Sharples' going produces a vacuum which leaves his highly capable, but yet-to-be-confirmed successor, Te Ururoa Flavell, struggling to fill it.

Sharples has complicated things by not giving up his ministerial responsibilities to Flavell until some months before the election - and then only some portfolios.

Not being a minister will theoretically make it easier for Flavell to indulge in some timely distancing of the Maori Party from National. That will be essential during the election campaign. But by the time that rolls around Flavell will be a minister.

Confused? Probably not as much as the Maori Party seems to be.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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