New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters has angrily rejected suggestions he is in talks with National about a post-election deal.
The Herald this morning reported Carterton Mayor and former NZ First MP Ron Mark was mulling a return to national politics by standing for his former party at the coming election.
Sources told the Herald Mr Mark was being courted both as a candidate and as a potential successor to Mr Peters, in part, because of his good relationship with National as the two parties consider a potential post-election deal.
But Mr Peters said suggestions of such talks were "total malicious malignant bulldust and I'm not going to put up with it."
"We are not going to have the constituency out there misled about us and involving nefarious conversations with other parties.
"I'm not having NZ First portrayed in that way when I'm the leader, I know exactly what's happening and what's not happening. I'm not having journalists write that we are in talks with any other political party because that is a downright lie."
Speculation that Mr Marks, who is still a member of NZ First, may return to active involvement in the party was fired by his appearance at the recent annual conference in Auckland.
"A lot of people have been asking me for a long time," he told the Herald last night.
"Last election I turned Winston down. I said 'thanks but no thanks'."
In terms of this year's election, "it is not a done deal", he said.
"I have not decided. I have not made up my mind because there are a whole lot of negatives."
Asked about the attractiveness of returning to Parliament as Mr Peters' likely successor, he said: "There's ups and downs with all of that, too."
Mr Peters said that as of this morning, "the New Zealand First Board advises that no paperwork has been received by Mr Mark regarding his nomination".
He added that the NZ First constitution required all candidates on the party list must also stand in an electorate which meant Mr Mark would have to stand in Wairarapa where he lived.
However he downplayed suggestions NZ First was chasing Mr Mark.
"Potential candidates approach us, we don't approach them. My information is that Mr Mark approached New Zealand First. That's my impression but I don't handle that matter."
But Mr Mark yesterday suggested he was being courted rather than the other way around.
"It's fair to say that a lot of people are talking to me to go back.
"A lot of them wanted me to go back with National."
Mr Mark said that he was "very, very comfortable" with his working relationship with
National and the fact Health Minister Tony Ryall had appointed him to two district health boards was "a hell of compliment". It had been a challenge to establish himself after he left Parliament because he believed ex-MPs were tarnished by their political history.
However, he was now lead Treaty negotiator for Ngati Kahungungu ki Wairarapa and was serving on two district health boards as well as being Carterton Mayor. He would not give up those roles lightly.
"Currently I work very well with the current Government and I have good relationships with Labour. To get this Treaty settlement through at the level I want I cannot afford to undermine those relationships and I'm doing this for my iwi."