Jan 24, 2013

Trouble in the Maori Party: Act I

I don’t even know where to start with this (from 3 News):

A fight for the Maori Party’s leadership has begun at Ratana today, with MP Te Ururoa Flavell officially challenging incumbent co-leader Pita Sharples.

Former Te Tai Tonga MP Rahui Katene has also thrown her hat in the ring to replace Tariana Turia as both co-leader and Te Tai Hauāuru MP.

The challenges are the latest in an ongoing spat about who will lead the party into the next election, and what direction the party should take.

Ms Turia announced she will stand down before the next election to let new blood take over the party – and urged Dr Sharples to do the same.

But last week, Dr Sharples unveiled he had no plans to stand down, saying he’d continue to co-lead the party after next year’s election.

Today, as the Ratana Church celebrates its birthday, Mr Flavell confirmed he would launch a challenge against Dr Sharples and Ms Katene confirmed she wanted Ms Turia’s job.

Maori Party president Pem Bird says Mr Flavell’s challenge will be discussed this afternoon and the party’s constitution will be reviewed to see what now happens.

I said last week that the party’s troubles are symptomatic of deep dysfunction within the parliamentary and party wings. I was too optimistic; the troubles are symptomatic of an anaemic caucus and a debilitated membership.

After shedding two seats and halving the party vote, it became obvious that the formula wasn’t right. The issue for the party appeared to be a matter of ingredients. Was there a leadership problem, a policy problem, a procedural problem or some combination of those factors and others?

As per last week, I think Te Ururoa represents a generational change and a break from the political period that Turia and Sharples embody. However, the party’s problems run deeper than leadership and political symbolism. The party itself, including the party leadership, haven’t figured out where they fit in a fragmented political landscape. A permanent Mana Party, a resurgent Labour Party and a rising Green Party have changed the way Maori politics is played. The Maori Party can either reclaim ground lost on the left, drift in the centre, or acknowledge their role on the right. They cannot maintain the idea that a pan-Maori party is possible. The party must choose a political identity – one that caters to a realistic market. In a post-Marine and Coastal Areas Act world, the party must find its mojo again.

With that in mind, dumping Pita could be problematic. He and Tariana anchor the Maori Party’s support. It would be interpreted as a swipe against Pita’s supporters if he was forced out of the job on Te Ururoa’s terms. Adding Rahui Katene to the recipe isn’t a magic play either. Katene was rejected in 2011 and it's arguable whether or not she appreciates the real issues that the Maori Party faces. The issues are not cosmetic and cannot and will not be resolved with a change in leadership.

As for Hone, well, this is an opportunity squeeze blood from the corpse. The Mana Party is stable, comfortable in its own ideology and untainted by government. The Maori Party is unstable, unsure of its own ideology and tainted by the decisions of government and factional fighting. The choice, if Hone were to draw the dichotomy, is an easy one.

UPDATE: last night the party released a statement saying that Pita will remain at the helm - for now. That's a good move. It's probably not the best look to wash your dirty laundry at Ratana (in front of nearly every political journalist in the country). As we know, though, it's delaying the inevitable hand-over.

Post-script: Pita is increasingly isolated from Tariana, Te Ururoa and some in the wider party. It would be cleaner for him to step down, but after his long service to Maori and the party his supporters argue that that is undignified (and he still retains support in the wider party) . The driving faction is made up of Te Ururoa, Pem Bird (the party president) and their supporters in the Waiariki electorate. Rahui Katene, as far as factional politics goes, is an uncertainty. However, in Parliament she was often associated with Tariana. 


  1. Te Ururoa Flavell will become the leader of nothing. Maori party is in terminal decline.Pem and Te Ururoa can't see that they are holding back a united mana/maori vote that empowers maoridom.

  2. Never a good idea to believe the 'news' from Mainstream radio or TV as if it is a) informed, b) accurate or c)non-racist.

  3. There is an awful amount of wishful thinking that goes on in relation to both Maori and Mana. Mana is not the party for a united Maoridom - it is the NZ First (Winston First) party of Maoridom. Mana = Hone First. There is no Mana Party without Hone.

    And in many ways this is the real issue for the Maori Party. It really is Tariana's party. It was formed under a kaupapa to fight the F&S Act. And it succeeded with that. Whether you like the the Marine & Coastal Area Act is irreleveant in that it is virtually reinstates the state of affairs prior to the F&S without the ability to convert customary title to private. And (broken record) it was the dear faithfull on the left that put that choice piece of rubbish in and the right that took it away. The Maori Party backed the right horse by the looks of things.

    So what is the Maori Party now? The Maori Party has a big problem with it's support base. It is not young. But let's get real, Hone doesn't represent 'the young' nor Maoridom. He is, in his own words, a party of the 'poor' and contrary to wishfull thinking of some people, most Maori are not poor.

    Your statement about being 'untainted' by govt must surely only apply to the current period until Mana (Hone) is eventually 'tainted' by Govt - surely? Otherwise what's the point? To sit on the sideline and chuck stones? That'll change nothing!

    And here's the rub - Hone has to eventually do a deal. And he will have to compromise. And then the politics begins. Will you have the courage to call him a sellout? Because that's the accusation that politicians are exposed to as a result of having to compromise. Under MMP there is virtually no ability to be idealogically pure. Even the Greens will eventually face that - unless they are happy being handmaiden to Labour with no ministerial power.

    I am largely right wing by ideology and historically by vote. But I vote Maori (remember, Tariana is very left) because it has transcended the traditional divide and given both right and left leaning Maori a shared platform that is Maori kaupapa focused. It's an amazing achievement.

    The whole 'Maori left wing thing' is not because of who we are as a people, but rather where we sit economically and socially. The Maori middle class is growing fast, and the traditional voter base is slowly moving closer to the centre and across to the right of centre as a result. That group will not vote for Hone.

  4. Their is just one small problem with Winston -he markets to old Anglo New Zealanders by criticising and condemning Maori. Gravy Train and Zimbabwe of the South pacific don't really paint Maori in a positive light. And did he think about the Zimbabwe comment -it used to be Apartheid Rhodesia a country he would never be allowed to be an MP because is lacks pure British genetics. Winston cares for one person and thnat person is Winston.

  5. Anyone who thinks the maori electorate are centrist or right wing needs their head read! Anyone care to remember that the maori electorate gave their party vote to labour at the last election? Thats why the maori party is stuffed and mana is on the rise!

  6. Anon 2:21. Your logic doesn't stand scrutiny - because a majority of Maori party voted Labour (left of centre AND centre) it does not follow that Mana is therefore on the rise. The most likely scenario, should there be a Maori party demise, is that at least 2 of the Maori seats will revert back to Labour. And it's no done deal that Hone will retain Tai Tokerau on an 800 majority. And nor is it a done deal that Annette would naturally pick up Waiariki. You seriously over estimate Maori electoral support for Hone.

    One of the things I like about Morgan's writing is the good analysis and thoughfullness that goes into the articles - even if I don't necessarily agree. I become less patient with reader comments that are nothing more than 'one's favourite political group' cheerleading. Your pompoms are making a hell of a racket - goooooooo Mana yay!

  7. Anon @ 9.26. Maybe u follow pita's 'vibe' when making political forecasts?

  8. Anon 5:31. I analyse voting trends based on known electoral results and then extrapolate out based on polling. Hope that clarifies.

  9. hone and mana are well positioned with good support base , there nothing to be gained in a mana moari party unification accept the survival of some of moari party mps.
    the moari party sold out proped up this terrible government and now there dead men walking if they want a avoide execution then they need to turn on john key instead of being dicki licks , but the hour is late!

  10. Regardless of whose right or wrong, stronger or weaker, ugliest or prettiest, Maori Party and Mana Party running for election = split vote. Winners Labour. Pita, Hone, Te Ururoa, Tariana all had their votes slashed. Swing to Labour. Fact. A union where both Māori Party (Government) and Mana (Opposition) understand both their limits and possibilities are required. Anything else: death.

  11. Does anybody care to remember the biggest Maori protest in modern history over the foreshore and seabed? Does anybody think Labour has changed its ways and has anybody asked Labour for their position on Maori water rights?



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.