Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Recent comments from Hone Harawira allege that the Māori Party Executive “told” their Te Tai Tokerau (TTT) candidate, Te Hira Paenga to stand down in a strategy to direct votes toward the Labour Party’s Kelvin Davis, to reduce the chances of Harawira winning the TTT seat providing a lifeboat to their Internet Party counterparts.

Harawira claims he’d had advice that:

“…the Maori Party National Executive had already made the decision, even though it had been opposed by their Tai Tokerau committee”

However, Paenga released a statement reiterating:

“Some commentators have suggested that I should step down or endorse the Labour candidate in an attempt to stop the Internet Party riding on the back of the Mana candidate….Irrespective of all of the speculation that has been circulating, I have no intention of stepping aside and I call upon all Māori party supporters to stay true to the kaupapa and to give me two ticks in Te Tai Tokerau. Only the Māori Party can guarantee Te Tai Tokerau a seat at the table”

Many commentators in fact did suggest that the Māori Party consider tactical voting in TTT and so it does not seem unusual that the conversation was had. Recalling earlier in the election those of the InternetMANA branch urged Labour to stand down Davis which was derided when agreement was not forthcoming. Additionally, in previous elections, Harawira has always run the narrative that the Māori Party stand candidates specifically to hurt his chances, while this year he is claiming they are attempting to do the opposite. It seems foregone that whether or not the Māori Party stand a candidate, that it’s always to inconvenience Harawira personally.  So this year, Harawira;s claim seems to be that no-one should stand against him. However, that is really undemocratic.

Heeni Brown for Te Kaea reported that:

“Things are blowing up in the Māori Party between its executive council and the family of Pita Sharples, namely his son, Te Hira Paenga, who is running in the Te Tai Tokerau seat.

Te Hira Paenga has confirmed that the executive has asked him to stand down in order to give his support to Kelvin Davis, but Paenga refuses to concede”

Brown clarifying on Twitter that:

“just to reaffirm @TeHiraPaenga says it was discussed with no pressure and he, his whanau & committee had the last say”

Given the controversy over this issue, Co-Leaders Tariana Tura and Te Ururoa Flavell have also issued a statement.

In my opinion, there are three possible motivations for Harawira running with this non-event:

  1. To avoid accountability if he loses the seat
  2. To attract the sympathy vote
  3. To end the Māori Party

On point 1, there is a very real chance that Harawira will not hold on to his seat. Davis and Harawira were very close in the polls even if there is some dispute as to the accuracy given the timing and poll methodology. However, both Paenga and Davis have indicated that those they have spoken to in TTT are uncomfortable with the idea of the Internet Party being given a lifeboat through a Māori seat and similar results were reflected in the poll carried out by Reid Research for Māori TV.  The point is, if Harawira can deflect blame pre-election, then he doesn’t have to take accountability if he loses the seat to Davis, instead he will hang his loss on the Māori Party rather than his own decision to (as many argue) misuse to the seat.

On point 2, this is a classic political strategy – build up a picture that all parties are against him in an attempt to assume the position of the underdog. However, this is straight up political posturing. No party or candidate is campaigning against Hone Harawira for personal reasons despite this appearing to be the message Harawira is attempting to entrench. Notwithstanding the policy differences, all TTT candidates are standing and campaigning for the same reasons as Harawira – to represent TTT. The key difference between Harawira and all the other TTT candidates is that he is the only candidate that is comfortable using their electorate seat as a lifeboat for the Kim Dotcom funded Internet Party.

On point 3, MANA has endorsed a tactical voting guide that essentially proposes to kill off the Māori Party. Recently on Native Affairs, Kereama Pene, MANA’s Tamaki Makaurau candidate, stated specifically that his sole purpose for standing was to take votes from the Māori Party’s Rangi McLean to ensure that Peeni Henare wins the seat. Additionally, over the past two weeks Annette Sykes, John Minto, and Hone Harawira have all published press releases that attack the Maori Party, lighting fires on rumour, conjecture, and blatant lies. So it’s difficult to see how Harawira’s final campaign pitches aren’t aimed at attempting to terminate the Māori Party.

In sum, like all electorates Te Tai Tokerau does have a big decision to make this election, the difference for TTT voters, is that they are also deciding if they want to see the Internet Party enter Parliament through their vote, and for this reason I think Davis will win this seat if only marginally ahead of Harawira, having been given endorsements from outside parties including NZ First and the National Party. The Māori Party have not endorsed Davis as Harawira suggests, they have endorsed their own candidate Te Hira Paenga.

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