Hone Harawira would not be the first MP to force the public to pay for a byelection purely for his own purposes, but no other has pulled this stunt so close to a general election. The whole country is going to the polls in a little under seven months. If Mr Harawira resigns this month, he will beat the date after which the country cannot be put to the expense of a byelection. Fortunately, he is having second thoughts.

He is taking time to consult his supporters in Northland. Hopefully they will remind him that he was elected to represent Te Tai Tokerau for a full term. If he feels he needs a fresh mandate now he has broken with the Maori Party and announced his own party, the electorate will have an opportunity to reassess him soon enough.

The only purposes a byelection would serve would be to let him promote his new party and award it public funds if he is returned to Parliament. On top of the $500,000 cost of the byelection, Mr Harawira could enjoy an extra $80,000 in salary and funding as a one-man party.

His Mana Party does not seem to have much else going for it yet. The only visible supporters at its launch last weekend were a few far-left veterans, Matt McCarten, Sue Bradford, John Minto and a fellow Maori activist, Annette Sykes.

The byelection was probably Mr McCarten's idea. He seems to be the prime strategist, which does not augur well for the party's prospects. Mr McCarten recently stood in the Mana byelection. He was standing, he said, to be a voice for the poor and downtrodden. An electorate that includes Porirua gave him 849 votes from a turnout of 23,314 people.

It may well be Mr McCarten's influence that causes the Mana Party to espouse the removal of GST from everything and the financing of all public services from a tax on financial transactions. But that sort of programme is just for public consumption. Mr Harawira's serious campaign will probably be heard only by Maori and possibly only in te reo.

His split with the Maori Party brings Maori voters to a crossroads, and the road they take will be important to the whole country. The Maori Party will stand for engagement with governments, the Mana Party for uncompromising demands. The November election should be telling, particularly if the Maori and Mana parties stand candidates in all of the Maori seats.

The agreement not to compete in electorates should be cancelled. The Maori Party needs to confront Mr Harawira's brand of politics so Maori leaders and the country at large can see where Maori voters are going.

If the Maori Party's gains in government this term have been modest, so have those of National's other partner, Act. The Maori Party has used this term to establish its credibility. After this election it may be in a position to demand very much more, but not if Mr Harawira's party has divided its vote.

Strong support for his party would only make it more likely Labour would recapture all Maori seats. In those circumstances, it is a wonder that Labour leader Phil Goff has undermined the Mana Party by ruling out a governing partnership with it.

But Mr Goff knows Mr Harawira's attitudes well enough to be able to predict that any such partnership would be unstable. On the foreshore and seabed, for instance, Mr Harawira opposed both parties' legislation, and did not want to see ownership settled in the courts. As far as he is concerned all land and sea is Maori property and that is the end of it.

A byelection would almost certainly return him because one seat would make no difference to the future place of Maori in national decision-making. That direction will be seen in November, not before.