Act Leader John Banks' decision to leave Parliament at the next election under the cloud of electoral fraud charges is not the end of the party, its president John Boscawen says.
Boscawen promised to mount a strong defence of Mr Banks' Epsom seat with a new candidate and leader next year
Mr Banks this morning confirmed he would not seek re-election in the 2014 general election and that he would step down as party leader at next year's annual meeting in March.
"It's time for me to move on from this place."
The decision comes less than 24 hours after the High Court ordered that Mr Banks must stand trial on allegations of electoral fraud.
"I'm simply not able to dedicate all my energy and ability on returning Act to Parliament next year in bigger numbers while fighting through the courts to clear my name," he told reporters.
Mr Boscawen said Mr Banks' decision did not mark the end of Act.
"The party can rebuild."
Without Act in Parliament, "I fear for the National Government", he said.
Mr Boscawen said he believed Act could retain Epsom even without a deal with National.
"We won it fair and square in 2005. No-one was more surprised on election night than (National candidate) Richard Worth."
Mr Boscawen said he wouldn't speculate whether the new leader would stand in Epsom but he noted that apart from Mr Banks former leader Rodney Hide had also held the seat.
"We intend to go out there and fight a strong campaign. It's very important for the country that we are successful."
While Prime Minister John Key said his Government had worked "very effectively" with Act, he would not comment on the chances of another deal with the party next year.
He would give an indication next year of which parties National could work with next year and then later give another indication of what any possible "accommodations" might look like.
Mr Key said he felt a little sorry for Mr Banks.
"He has had a long and distinguished career in my view, in both local and central government and I believe him to be a thoroughly honest guy."
He didn't think Mr Banks should have moved aside earlier saying Mr Banks like any other New Zealander had the right to be presumed innocent until it was proved otherwise.
Mr Banks said he saw no need to resign from Parliament before the election.
"I'm committed to serving the people of Epsom and I can do that well. I've done nothing wrong so why would I resign?"
"Anyone who knows me well knows I would not file a false return of anything."
He was now focused on the "long triangulated legal process to clear my name''.
"I will not be saying anything more about the particulars of the case now before the court except that I'm not fearful of the process or where it ends.''
Decision not an admission of guilt
Mr Banks said his decision to step down was not an admission of guilt.
"I'm not guilty of any offence, I have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.''
Mr Banks said he would quit as Act Leader at the party's annual meeting in March next year.
Nominations for replacement to open soon
Mr Boscawen said the Act board would soon open nominations for candidates to stand at the election.
"We have a number of very talented potential candidates and we expect to name our key candidates, including a new candidate for Epsom, by the time of our annual conference in early March.''
Epsom has been held by Act since 2005. Since 2008, Act has supported the Government.
"The importance of this has been recognised by the voters of Epsom, who have continued to elect an ACT MP throughout this time,'' Mr Boscawen said.
Parliament 'much more septic'
Asked whether he regretted returning to Parliament, Mr Banks said it had been difficult.
"If I knew what I know now, would I have done things differently? Probably.
"This is a very different place to when I arrived under Robert Muldoon.''
"It's much more feral, much more septic, a lot more nasty.''
Greens: Banks has been rejected by Act
Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said this morning's announcement amounted to a rejection of Mr Banks by Act.
"But, sadly, New Zealand is stuck with him till the next election."
Dr Norman said the fact the Government was now relying on someone facing electoral fraud charges for support called in question the stability of John Key's Government.
"John Key will try to paint this as business as usual, but the wheels have fallen off and he can't keep driving the Government with just one right hand wheel."
Dr Norman said Mr Banks should now resign from Parliament, but Mr Banks' response was that the Green Co-leader should "get a life".
* First entered Parliament in 1981 as National MP for Whangarei
* Was promoted to Cabinet in 1990 and held the police, tourism, and sport portfolios
* He left Parliament in 1999
* Mr Banks was voted mayor of Auckland in 2001 and served two terms
* He unsuccessfully contested the mayoralty for the newly formed Auckland Supercity in 2010
* During that campaign he solicited and received donations from Kim Dotcom and SkyCity which were declared as anonymous
* He returned to Parliament in 2011 after winning the seat of Epsom for the ACT party, becoming party leader after Don Brash resigned
* He held the regulatory reform, small business, associate commerce and associate education portfolios but resigned them after being sent to trial over charges of filing a false electoral return in the 2010 Auckland Mayoral campaign
Act Party - The Record:
* 1996 - 6.1 per cent: Act elected to Parliament in first MMP election with eight MPs; leader Richard Prebble wins Wellington Central after a tacit endorsement from National PM Jim Bolger
* 1999 - 7.04 per cent: Act wins nine seats, although leader Richard Prebble loses Wellington Central
* 2002 - 7.14 per cent: Act wins nine seats again, no electorate seats
* 2005 - 1.51 per cent: Against predictions, new leader Rodney Hide wins the seat of Epsom and brings Heather Roy into Parliament
* 2008 - 3.65 per cent: Rodney Hide retains Epsom and brings in four other MPs, including John Boscawen. Act signs a confidence and supply agreement with National
* 2011 - 1.07 per cent. No former Act MPs stand. Ex-National leader Don Brash leads the Party to its worst result after ousting Rodney Hide as leader in coup and replacing Hide with ex-National MP John Banks as Act candidate in Epsom. Not enough party votes for more than one MP so Brash resigns and Banks is made leader. Boscawen is president.