By JAMES GARDINER and VANESSA BIDOIS



Sir Robert Mahuta's leadership of the financially troubled Tainui tribe is about to end, with arch-rival Koro Wetere tipped to take over.



The election for the 12-member tribal executive, Te Kaumarua, will be held at Hopuhopu tomorrow but insiders say close allies of Sir Robert will mostly miss out.



The big winner is expected to be Dr Wetere, Maori Affairs Minister in the 1984-90 Labour Government.

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Crucial to the result is the kahui ariki (royal) direct appointment to one of the 12 seats by the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu.



Dame Te Ata's blessing is understood to favour Dr Wetere over Sir Robert, her stepbrother, who has traditionally represented her.



The other 11 are elected by the 183-member Tainui tribal council Te Kauhanganui but Sir Robert was not among the 24 who were nominated, relying on Dame Te Ata to appoint him.



Most marae have already held meetings and decided how to cast their votes.



For election purposes, the marae were grouped into four geographic regions of roughly similar population size. Marae in region A (Rangiriri to South Auckland) elect two representatives, while regions B (Huntly to Raglan), C (Ngaruawahia to Kawhia) and D (east of Hamilton) elect three each.



Candidates endorsed by Sir Robert who are tipped to miss out include Te Umu McLean, Barney Kirkwood, Ata Te Ao, Te Ataarangai Poutapu, Rukumoana Willis and Te Puaha Tomo.



In a letter to Te Kauhanganui members earlier this year Sir Robert criticised Dr Wetere for "playing political games within the tribe" and Tom Moana, whom he described as "overbearing and bullying."



If the initial indications are correct, both those men could be in key positions of power after this weekend, while Sir Robert and his allies will be on the outer.



Neither Sir Robert nor Dr Wetere returned calls yesterday but at Tainui headquarters the policy analyst who designed the election process, Haydn Solomon, confirmed that there were indications the powerbase would change and the Maori Queen's representative would be Dr Wetere rather than Sir Robert.



"But we won't have any guarantee until the vote is dropped. I guess there could be a lot of politicking between now and Sunday."



Auckland lawyer Ruku Willis, one of the nominees, said marae in her region (D) had to chose three people from eight and, despite meeting as recently as Thursday night, had not reached agreement.