Maori Party ponders split voting

By Ruth Berry

The Maori Party is reviewing its policy of allowing its MPs to split their votes on some legislative issues, after being warned it may weaken its bargaining power at the next election.

The party's MPs will hold a two-day caucus meeting in Wellington this week and co-leader Pita Sharples said the issue would be on the agenda.

The party - which co-leader Tariana Turia described last week as neither left nor right, but kaupapa and tikanga-driven - may yet hold the balance of power after the next election and it will be courted by both major parties this year.

But Dr Sharples said questions had been asked about the split-voting, which the party had engaged in several times.

"I think we will have to look at our own strategies, how we vote, how we behave, because [so far] we've had the luxury of being able to split our vote when we don't agree, after discussion.

"We don't want to do that, but we have done it once or twice and I guess we have to get a policy on that otherwise people will say 'you can't go with them because you can't count on their vote'.

"The critics tell us so long as Maori keep splitting their vote people are going to look at them as a dubious partner in any sort of an alliance."

Dr Sharples said he quite liked the ability to split votes and it was not yet clear the party would abandon the policy.

"Maybe that's the way [the status quo] it will have to be."

Although the Maori Party did not want to remain on the crossbenches indefinitely "we're not looking specifically for an alliance at all.

"We want to take Maori things forward tooth and nail."

Prime Minister Helen Clark has declined to specifically respond to Mrs Turia's statement last week that she believed Labour no longer considered the Maori Party "the last cab off the rank" as a potential governing partner. Mrs Turia also called for a better working relationship with Labour this year.

But Helen Clark's spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister welcomes Tariana Turia's openness to a working relationship with Labour now and in the future."

Labour had sought constructive relationships with all the smaller parties since the election and "that includes the Maori Party".

In MMP politics, parties worked together where they could define common objectives.

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