Hone Harawira has laid the bait. The Maori Party is toying with swallowing it.

Tariana Turia and her fellow MPs would be best advised to think very carefully before standing a candidate in the (presumably) forthcoming by-election in Harawira's Te Tai Tokerau seat, however.

They may well see the by-election as heaven-sent opportunity to get Harawira off their backs and stop his new his Mana Party dead in its tracks.

But fielding a candidate would only be worth it if that person has a reasonable chance of defeating the incumbent or leaving him nursing a bloody nose figuratively-speaking by running him close.

There is no guarantee of that. Quite the reverse.

Harawira would like nothing better than to go head-to-head against someone from his old party. He would be on the offensive. The Maori Party candidate would be on a hiding to nothing.

In contrast, not standing would - if replicated by the other established parties - deprive Harawira of the platform a by-election would normally provide to keep him in the news, raise the profile of his party and build it into an election-ready outfit in time for November.

A proper contest which Harawira won convincingly would free him up to campaign more widely during the general election campaign with the confidence that he would hold his seat.

The significance of the result of a non-contest boycotted by other parties would be much more ambiguous unless he romped home with a huge number of votes and could thus lay claim to having secured the fresh mandate he is seeking.

Standing under the Maori Party banner in 2008, Harawira notched up just over 12,000 votes, giving him a 6000-plus majority over Labour's Kelvin Davis.

As Tariana Turia discovered when she similarly resigned and forced a by-election in her seat after leaving Labour in 2004, people simply do not bother to vote if the result is a foregone conclusion. In her case, turnout dropped to around 33 per cent, leaving her 3000 votes shy of the level she recorded in both the preceding and subsequent general elections.

Those who do bother to vote, however, would have the freedom offered by a pointless by-election to vote for Harawira when their choice at a general election might be very different - another reason for the Maori Party not to stand.

If it does not do so, it will face charges of chickening out. The party can easily rebut those by arguing the by-election is a waste of public money and designed solely to enable Harawira to be officially designated as parliamentary leader of his party, thus entitling the Mana Party to some $50,000-plus in taxpayer funding.

But the longer the Maori Party takes to make a decision on standing, the more difficult it will become not to do so without provoking more accusations it is running scared.

One argument is that it would be better for Labour to stand a candidate. Unlike the Maori Party, it would have little to lose and a lot to gain.

Davis, who would likely run again, could count on retaining a good chunk of his 2008 support, although he too would likely suffer from a low turnout.

Phil Goff, however, has already echoed the widespread view that a byelection is an exercise in self-indulgence on Harawira's par. To then seek to exploit the by-election for Labour's benefit might look just a touch too cynical.

The big disincentive, however, to Labour standing is that Maori Party would feel obliged to follow suit, thus risking splitting the anti-Harawira vote to neither party's advantage.