20 Mar 2013

Tensions simmering over Maori Party leadership

9:15 pm on 20 March 2013

Tensions are continuing to simmer over the Maori Party leadership, with Pita Sharples insisting he will stay on as co-leader because he has a high profile among Maori.

But his fellow co-leader, Tariana Turia, is continuing to give strong signals that Dr Sharples should consider leaving to make way for the party's other MP, Te Ururoa Flavell.

Ms Turia has already announced her retirement at the next election and says the party must plan for succession.

The internal fight over the leadership came to a head in January, when Mr Flavell made public his intention to challenge Dr Sharples.

Earlier this week, the party floated the idea of having no official party leader - rather, each of the three MPs would take the lead in different areas.

Mrs Turia says most Maori voters are under 35 and, at a meeting on Sunday, two out of the seven Maori electorates made it clear the youth vote backs Mr Flavell.

But Dr Sharples says he has youth groups following him too, and he will stay because Maori leaders and communities have asked him to.

Mr Flavell says his challenge to Dr Sharples is still on the table, despite the possibility of a new leadership arrangement. He says it is up to the membership to decide what happens.

Political scientist Rawiri Taonui of Auckland University of Technology says a three-way leadership will be hard to sell to the Maori electorate going into next year's election.