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Intense campaign ahead for the Maori seats

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/02/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

Labour holds six of the seven Maori seats in parliament and the Maori Party holds one.

In three of those Labour-held seats, the combined votes for Maori Party and Mana Party candidates in the last election exceeded those cast for Labour.

That's what's behind the announcement this week that the Maori and Mana parties won't fight each other on September 23.

They've acknowledged they can't afford to split the vote, and their agreement not to do that could be crucial for the government.

The Maori Party won't stand in Te Tai Tokerau, where Mana leader Hone Harawira lost to Labour's Kelvin Davis by 743 votes in 2014.

Davis gained 9712 votes, the combined Maori/Mana vote was 11,548.

Unless there's a significant change in voting patterns, Harawira should regain his seat.

The Mana Party won't stand in any of the Maori seats except Te Tai Tokerau.

In Tamaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauauru the Mana/Maori vote was more than Labour's winning candidates gained.

On paper, the Maori Party must stand a good chance in those seats.

And it's essential co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell holds his Waiariki seat.

It's only because he holds it, and therefore exempts the party from the five per cent threshold, that his colleague Marama Fox is a list MP.

In 2014 Flavell retained it with a healthy 3889 majority, but Mana's Annette Sykes ran a strong campaign and captured 5482 of the votes.

With her out the way, Flavell should have an easy ride.

In a tight election, and all the signs are that this one is going to be close, every seat counts.

The government has a support agreement with the Maori Party, which will almost certainly carry through post-election.

Right now they give the government an extra two votes to help it stay in power when there's a confidence vote in parliament.

They're not essential because ACT and United Future are there, also supporting the government, and giving it a bare majority.

But those two might not be enough next time, and the government could need the Maori Party to cross the line.

In that case, three or four Maori Party seats could be the difference between winning and losing.

Labour is acutely aware of this, which is why it is being so derogatory about the deal.

It's trying to create the impression that the two parties have merged by referring to "the Mana Maori Party".

They haven't, and the agreement expires on election night in the same way Labour's deal with the Greens does.

Party leader Andrew Little has belittled the achievements of the Maori Party, managing to outrage even the now-retired Sir Pita Sharples.

"The Maori Party is not kaupapa Maori, " said Little, meaning it didn't follow Maori values and principles.

"We know that, It has conceded on every important issue affecting Maori in the last nine years."

Flavell's unusually strident response was that the Labour leader was dismissing his party's history.

It was, after all, founded by Dame Tariana Turia who quit Labour over the previous government's foreshore and seabed legislation.

Harawira was, as usual, more blunt: "The last thing Maori need is a white bloke in Wellington telling them what their aspirations are."

There'll be a lot more of that before Maori voters go to the polls.

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