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

Maori Party hopes former Kiwis star Howie Tamati will boost its vote

Maori Party candidate Howie Tamati. Photo/supplied.
Maori Party candidate Howie Tamati. Photo/supplied.

NZ Rugby League President and former Kiwis player Howie Tamati is hoping his high sporting and political profile will help boost the Maori Party's vote and win the Te Tai Hauauru electorate back for the party.

Tamati was selected over Debbie Ngarewa-Packer by the Maori Party on Saturday. It will pit him against Labour's Adrian Rurawhe, who won the seat in 2014 after a decade of it being held by former Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia.

Rurawhe is a descendant of the prophet Tahupōtiki Wiremu Ratana and the Ratana faith is prominent in the electorate and has historic links to Labour.

Tamati said he was not morehu (a Ratana follower) but hoped his profile from his league days and working in the region as a councillor and chief executive of Sport Taranaki would help his campaign.

He hoped that would also help boost the nationwide Maori Party vote.

A father of seven and grandfather of five, Tamati is Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell's brother in law and said he had supported the Maori Party since its inception in 2004.

One of his first steps would be to talk to Turia, who retired in 2014, to see whether she would back him. Turia had refused to endorse a candidate in the selection, but was believed to favour Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and wanted a woman candidate.

Tamati would also be trying to strengthen the party's local organisation to prepare for the campaign.

Tamati has already showed he can follow the party line - he would not say whether he would prefer to work under a National or Labour Government, saying the virtue of an independent Maori Party was that it could work with either.

The Maori Party now holds only one electorate and Te Tai Hauauru is one new President Tukoroirangi Morgan is hopeful of winning back.

Morgan said Tamati, who is Ngati Mutunga, Te Atiawa and Ngai Tahu, had the track record to mobilise voters.

"Howie has the reach we need to win this seat, even Maori people who don't vote know him. Howie is a true son of Taranaki, of Te Tai Hauauru and of Aotearoa who we know will be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to mobilising Maori to vote for him and our party."

​Tamati has been the President of NZ Rugby League since 2013. His term is due to end next year.

Tamati is the chief executive officer of Sport Taranaki and has been a New Plymouth District Councillor for 15 years.

- NZ Herald

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