Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Sharples to stay after leadership showdown

Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Maori Party National Council says there will be no immediate change in the party's leadership following a showdown at the Whangaehu marae.

Pita Sharples' time as co-leader of the Maori Party was thought to be at an end after a surprise challenge by Te Ururoa Flavell forced the party to confront the issue, rather than wait for Dr Sharples to stand down.

But in a statement this morning, party president Pem Bird said Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples would continue as co-leaders.

"The hui had robust discussions around our constitution and our processes. Amongst a number of decisions made on party matters the hui confirmed there will be no immediate change in leadership. Tariana Turia and Dr Pita Sharples will continue as co-leaders," he said.

"However we will convene a special meeting in the next few months to discuss the constitution further and how leadership changes should take place now and into the future.

"Te Ururoa has signalled that he wishes to be given the opportunity to co-lead the party and so the Maori Party needs to work through constitutional and procedural processes as part of our succession planning," Mr Bird said.

Mr Flavell's move was outed after Dr Sharples said he had mounted a challenge and the matter was in the party's hands.

Mr Flavell refused to confirm he had laid a formal challenge, but party president Pem Bird later confirmed that he had done so.

After the challenge was revealed, Dr Sharples and Mr Flavell said it was up to the party to decide on the succession leadership. Mr Flavell told the Herald in 2011 that, out of loyalty, he would not directly challenge Dr Sharples and would instead wait for him to stand down of his own accord.

Since then, Mrs Turia has announced her retirement in 2014 and challenged Dr Sharples to also step down from the leadership to allow successors to be appointed. Mr Flavell has been open that he wanted the job - telling the Herald in December that he was considering leaving in 2014 if he was not the leader by then.

Yesterday, he said he expected decisions on both the male and female leaders soon. It was possible the party would also opt to allow a single leader rather than two co-leaders in the future as it tried to find a replacement for Mrs Turia.

"It's a job that might fall my way, but under the circumstances I'm just letting the party do what it has to do. If it falls my way, I'll have to make some decisions and if it doesn't then I'll have to make some decisions."

Dr Sharples has previously said he would not stand down, but yesterday he said while he wanted to stay on he might step down, depending on the "vibes" from the members.

He said there were good arguments on both sides of the ledger.

"It's an interesting one - whether I stay on to keep continuity and my contacts, which are many, or whether I step down now to allow a new person to come in. They both have benefits."

Dr Sharples also made it clear he would like to stay on as a minister if he vacated the leadership.

Prime Minister John Key would not comment on the challenge, but did not believe it would imperil the support agreement with National.

He said he would discuss the two ministerial slots with whoever the leaders were but there was nothing to stop Dr Sharples staying on as a minister if the leaders wished it.

The party also had to contend with Mana leader Hone Harawira yesterday after Mr Harawira said Maori Party members had asked him to return as the leader and proposed a merger of the two parties.

- NZ Herald with Newstalk ZB

- NZ Herald

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