National's 17-year-old candidate for Palmerston North, William Wood, has removed a public photograph on his Facebook page showing a friend making a hand gesture adopted by white supremacists.
The photograph shows Wood and four male friends at Parliament for a mock UN Security Council summit. One friend is wearing a red baseball cap with United States President Donald Trump's election slogan "Make America Great Again" and making the "Okay" hand gesture.
The hand gesture has been around since the 17th century and become associated with the word "Okay". In recent years it has come to represent a hate symbol, with some members of the far right using the gesture to represent the letters "wp" for "white power".
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Wood, who has gone from being a high school prefect to political candidate in the past month, could not be reached for comment.
National leader Simon Bridges said it was his understanding that the hand gesture was not a white supremacist signal.
"It was a model United Nations event – the person wearing the hat was representing America. The President of America is Donald Trump, someone who has done these symbols in the past."
Bridges said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made the same hand gestures as well: "I don't think there is a lot in it, it's not a biggie".
Asked why the post was deleted if there was nothing wrong with it, Bridges said: "He probably knew there would be questions like this to the leader of his party at a stand-up just before Parliament".
Bridges said Wood was "being a good candidate and trying to be responsible and step up to the mark".
Wood, who has had an interest in politics since about the age of 12 and expressed aspirations to be prime minister, will contest next year's general elections against Labour Cabinet Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, who had a 6392 majority in 2017.
He has just finished his final year at Palmerston North Boys' High School and is the youngest National candidate ever. He will have to re-sign his candidate form when he turns 18 in January.
Speaking with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB today, Wood said his age was not an issue, saying National was there for anybody prepared to put in the hard work to get a good result.
Asked about life experience or lack of it, Wood said he brings something different to the table.
"Understanding young people and their passions is an important thing that our political scene is lacking at the moment," he said.
Wood said his goal was to win Palmerston North and work in the best interests of the community.
He was the Youth MP for the Rangitīkei electorate in the 2019 Youth Parliament, and he told Stuff at the end of last year, as a 16-year-old, that he wanted to be prime minister.