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Maori Party president Whatarangi Winiata's bombshell in asking MP Hone Harawira to resign will throw it the party into unprecedented turmoil.

But Winiata and co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples knew that when the request was put to Harawira at a hui in Kaitaia on Thursday.

The fact that they are willing to accept the internal grief, and possibly a permanent rift with the north, shows how strongly they feel about him going.

It has been a decision reached more in sorrow than anger. And it is more an act of self-preservation than of punishment.

Harawira sees himself as a likeable rogue who performs an important role as activist on "the edge" of the party and New Zealand society.

But the leadership sees him as an increasing liability whose divisiveness goes against the kaupapa - underlying ethos - of the party and who threatens to damage the party's ability to pursue its policy agenda in the coming year.

Next year will be a crucial year for the Maori Party, with the ground-breaking whanau ora social policy to be a feature of the 2010 Budget, the sensitive repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act to be enacted and a constitutional review considering the place of the Treaty of Waitangi to be set up.

It is apparent from comments Turia has made that the events of the past two weeks - after Harawira went awol on a parliamentary trip to Europe and wrote obscenities about Pakeha - were the clincher, not the sole reason for asking him to go.

Winiata met Harawira last weekend. It seems likely that at that meeting he raised the prospect of the MP going independent.

On the same weekend, Harawira met old friends and media personalities Matt McCarten, Willie Jackson and John Tamihere, who counselled him, and two days later Harawira spent the day saying sorry.

At his press conference in Auckland on Tuesday, he said there had been recent suggestions that he leave the party. No one imagined it was the leaders who wanted him gone.

Harawira declared his loyalty to the party on Tuesday but that was not enough to stop the president from presenting his request at the hui.

Deeds are what count, and in Harawira's contrition spree he opened up further fronts of attack against Labour leader Phil Goff.

On the highly sensitive issue of the foreshore and seabed, he declared that the Maori Party was taking back the foreshore and seabed that Labour had stolen.

Winiata, a gently spoken former accountancy professor at Victoria University, has been the force behind the party as a organisation driven by kaupapa - a set of principles on which its policies, responses and behaviour are based.

Kotahitanga is one of them, described in party literature as being demonstrated through the achievement of harmony and moving as one, and promoting harmonious relationships among all people.

Another is "manaakitanga", described as "behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one's own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity and mutual respect".

When asked at a press conference yesterday which kaupapa Harawira had breached, Sharples cited "manaakitanga for starters".

Harawira was a leader in most things he did in life before he entered politics. Adjusting to being just another player has been difficult for him. In the north he is king. In the party he is not.

But his failure to pay due regard to party discipline is not unique. Turia herself, when a member of the Labour Party, had no room for obeisance to a party.

The Maori Party represents a broad church of views, from left to conservative. It is not Harawira's radicalism per se that is the problem but the way he expresses his views in a polarising way.

Winiata's ambiguous comments outside Thursday's hui appeared to leave the door open to Harawira to change his ways and remain with the party "so long as he doesn't destroy the party in the process".

But the press statement prepared ahead of time was more definite and painted a divorce as a fait accompli.

Headed "Independent status would acknowledge reality", it said resignation from the party would free Harawira and allow him to act with the independence which he claimed.

It acknowledged that the situation would cause upset and anxiety for Maori Party supporters in Te Tai Tokerau, "who may feel their loyalties to the party and their MP are now conflicted".

A byelection cannot be discounted, whereby Harawira resigns from Parliament and seeks a new mandate.

Another option is that if an amicable agreement is reached whereby he becomes an independent, the Maori Party might not put up a candidate against him next time.

The act of asking him to consider leaving will cause resentment towards the party and perhaps create a constituency among his supporters over the next couple of weeks that encourages him to leave the party.

The alternative is that kaumatua of the north who he will be consulting in the next fortnight will come up with a solution acceptable to all.

Harawira's electoral support in the north is not spectacular. He holds the second lowest majority of the five seats, next to Te Tai Tonga's Rahui Katene.

He beat Labour's Dover Samuels in 2005 by 3613 votes.

Last year he increased his majority to 6308. But that is less than the majorities held by Turia, Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell.

It was clear from the press conference Turia and Sharples held at Parliament yesterday that their tolerance for Harawira is an at end. The possibility of his remaining a colleague seems remote at this stage.

There can be no mistaking the message: Harawira is not a team-player and is not suited to the disciplines of a political party. The hope is that he recognises that himself.

But Harawiras don't do humiliation, and the default position would have to be on his fighting expulsion - which in itself could be damaging to the party.

It is a battle the party's leaders calculated is worth risking.