By 3 News online staff with NZN
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.
Dr Sharples told 3 News that if he is ousted by Mr Flavell, he wants to hang on to his ministerial portfolios, which include Maori Affairs and Associate Education.
The standoff has prompted Mana Party leader and former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira to say he’s being courted to lead the Maori Party.
He left it in February 2011 and formed Mana, but now he's suggesting the two could merge.
“I've been asked by various kaumatua and kuia to come back because of the divisions within the leadership and the fact that the Maori Party seems to be dying,” he says
“Mana is a vibrant and active political movement while the Maori Party has gone from a membership of some 24,000 when I was there to just 600 today.”
Mr Harawira says he's open to discussions with Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.
“I think a Mana-Maori union is what people want - I have made the offer in the past and I happily make that offer again in the best interests of the people.”
Mr Harawira may be just trying to stir up trouble with his claims, but the Maori Party's support has dwindled and in the 2011 election it won 1.43 percent of the party vote compared with Mana's 1.08 percent.