The likely next co-leader of the Maori Party Te Ururoa Flavell has indicated the National Party may not be the Maori Party's first choice in a kingmaker position under his leadership, saying he was not wedded to National and had to take account of political reality.
Asked how much the Maori Party was suffering from its relationship with National, Mr Flavell said he believed the party had made the right decision to go with National given there was no other option for Government for the last two terms.
"But I'm not wedded to [National]. Politics is a hard game and [what] we must do is look at where other parties fit with us and with our kaupapa, and where we can get the best gains for our people. National and Labour are pretty much still the same in the political climate."
He said his first priority would be to ensure the Maori Party could hold on to its seats to get into a strong position for coalition talks. Its rivals Mana and Labour have already started talking up their chances of taking the seats, pointing to the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection as a sign of how weak the Maori Party now was.
He would spend time working out a way ahead to put to the party at its AGM where he will seek to be elected as the new co-leader.
Pita Sharples announced he would resign as co-leader at that AGM in two weeks, saying it was "with a heavy heart" but ultimately for the good of the party because it would end the perception of disunity and "make room for change".
Mr Flavell said he was grateful Dr Sharples resigned in advance, preventing a potentially messy vote and allowing the party to focus on preparing for 2014 at the AGM rather than the leadership.
"I'm just glad we don't have to go to the vote. I'm always going to have the highest regard for the things he has done and that hasn't changed."
Mr Flavell got the tick of approval as a potential support partner from both the Prime Minister and Labour leader David Shearer. Mr Shearer said although the party's future was uncertain he had "a great deal of time" for Mr Flavell. "I believe he was once a member of the Labour Party, so his instincts are right. If he was able to share the same sort of policies, obviously we would consider that."
Prime Minister John Key also said he would happily work with Mr Flavell, describing him as "steady". He said the Maori Party could decide for itself who should hold its two ministerial posts and if it decided to hand over Maori Affairs to Mr Flavell before the next election "that might be a very logical thing for both the Maori Party and for the ministry".
Mr Flavell said he was confident that once the party set out its way forward, it would attract good candidates for 2014. It would discuss whether it is worth talking to Mana about a deal over the electorates, "but it shouldn't consume us. We have to focus on what is right for us, as opposed to trying to fit somebody else's agenda."
However, Flavell will have a challenge to rebuild the party. Party president Pem Bird told Te Kaea it was possible he too will step down at the AGM. It is possible co-vice-president Ken Mair will step up to take his place. Mr Mair has also been mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Mrs Turia in Te Tai Hauauru but said yesterday that it was not his intention. "I think there are enough good candidates to be able to hold this seat. But circumstances can change and you never know. But it's not my intention."