Maori Party debates wider appeal

By Ruth Berry

The Maori Party is grappling with whether to dilute its Maori focus to try to attract non-Maori voters.

The debate arose from discussion on whether it should invest resources and energy into competing for general seats.

The party's leaders are in favour of contesting at least a handful of general seats, aware it could be politically difficult to portray the party as holding the answer to more harmonious race relations if it does not.

But it appears they are facing grassroots opposition from those concerned this might force the party to compromise its direction.

At the party's annual general meeting in Auckland on Saturday, president Whatarangi Winiata told the 250 assembled delegates and members the matter of competing for the general seats had attracted considerable debate at party hui.

"Opinion ranged from absolute opposition to some enthusiasm."

The party's kaupapa Maori focus meant it was the only option for most voters on the Maori roll.

However Maori and Pakeha and others on the general roll had shown interest.

Contesting the seats "could extend our influence as the only option on the political scene", Professor Winiata said. "I'm asking us not to see our party too narrowly."

The conference had been set to sign off its campaign strategy, including the issue of whether to contest general seats, before it ended yesterday. But afterwards Professor Winiata said: "The debate on [general seats] continues."

If general seats were contested, "you are not just representing Maori, you are representing a diversity of ethnic groups. The issues that go with that and the way in which you provide for those views to be expressed ... is quite complex, but we want to do it".

Whichever choice is made, there was no doubt over the weekend where the main battleground will be.

Co-leader Pita Sharples declared war on Labour in the Maori seats and attacked its "colonised" Maori MPs - whom he labelled kupapa (traitors) - one by one.

He parodied Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels and said "Maori Repairs" Minister Parekura Horomia's attempts to negotiate deals undermining Maori opposition to the foreshore legislation was "perhaps the worst sin".

Mr Samuels said: "If they want a war, well bring it on."

He accused the Maori Party leaders of hypocrisy.

They had misled Maori over the foreshore and were now guilty of delivering the personal attacks they said they abhorred.

The party was continually attempting to "foment the victimisation of Maori" and had done so again at the weekend by raising so-called concerns about co-leader Tariana Turia's safety, following a threatening email, which he said all MPs received regularly.

Mrs Turia downplayed the security issue yesterday, saying the threats she had received were "on a par" with those of previous years.

In her speech she told delegates the pact the Ratana Church founder, Tahupotiki Ratana, made with Labour had been broken, because the party had failed to meet its agreements.

Labour has selected Errol Meihana the son of Ratana leader Hare Meihana, to contest Mrs Turia's Tai Hauauru seat in the bitter battle for the official Ratana vote.

The party's 7500 members are being asked for more financial help - automatic deposits of $1 a week or more - to raise money for an office and a general secretary.

 

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