Claire Trevett

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

Sharples accepts apology: president

Pita Sharples. Photo / NZPA
Pita Sharples. Photo / NZPA

Maori Party president Pem Bird has apologised to the party's co-leader Pita Sharples for a television interview in which Mr Bird suggested Dr Sharples could be replaced by Christmas.

Mr Bird has denied there was any "grand conspiracy" against Dr Sharples and said he was simply discussing options for the future of the party.

"There's no sinister plot, just some naivety. I got caught out a beauty and that blunder of mine caused a whole lot of angst. We've got beyond that. I fessed up to my mistake. What Pita said you can only imagine, but there has been sincere apologies from me."

He was referring to an interview on TVNZ from an airport in which Mr Bird indicated that at the party's usual post-election meeting it could replace Dr Sharples with MP Te Ururoa Flavell, who could also take Dr Sharples' ministerial roles.

The Maori Party will meet on December 17 where the issue of the leadership will be discussed. Both Tariana Turia and Dr Sharples have said they will retire, but Dr Sharples was expected to stay for the whole term.

Mr Bird said Dr Sharples had forgiven him. "He's remarkable. He got a clout, albeit unintentional, and he's got over it and is working on the future."

Mr Bird said the party had to accept it "got a bit of a hiding in the election" and that its co-leaders were retiring.

"I don't have a preference but we are talking about a new leader coming in who would need some lead-in time. We've got to plan for that in a careful, considered way. And Pita will be part of that decision-making process."

Options include delaying any change, or replacing Dr Sharples with Mr Flavell as leader including any ministerial role secured under an arrangement with National.

Another is changing the leadership but allowing Dr Sharples to stay as a minister while Mr Flavell focuses on strengthening the party after a damaging election.

Labour MP Shane Jones, who stood against Dr Sharples in the Tamaki Makaurau seat, has described the apparent plotting as disrespectful to Dr Sharples and to the voters of Tamaki Makaurau who voted for Dr Sharples on the assumption he was the leader and a likely minister.

Mr Jones also speculated that if he was replaced as leader, Dr Sharples could quit early, forcing a byelection in the seat.

Mr Bird said Mr Jones was simply trying to take some political advantage. He said the party had to be bigger than any one person.

Its MPs and executive are holding a hui with members nationwide to gauge views on whether it should go back into an arrangement with National. Its votes are not critical for National to have a majority.

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- NZ Herald

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