The reign of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples as co-leaders of the Maori Party is showing clear signs of drawing to a close. After 9 years of at times contentious leadership in a party that was rocked by infighting during the messy severance of Hone Harawira from its ranks, the kaumatua (elders), appear to be finally accepting it is time for the next generation to step up.
Tariana Turia, a former Labour Party Member of Parliament who at various times held Associate Minister of Health, Housing, Maori Affairs among others, has indicated that she will not stand for re-election in 2014 when the current Parliamentary term expires. Mrs Turia split from the Labour party amidst widespread anger over the foreshore and seabed issue. The Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark had plans to pass legislation as it eventually did with New Zealand First and United Future support to ensure that the resources of the marine zone around New Zealand would remain in public domain.
This Government, like the previous National-led Government of Prime Ministers Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley has shown considerable dedication to resolving the Treaty of Waitangi grievances that remain outstanding. Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples have recognised that by entering into two successive terms of office, where Dr Sharples has been Minister of Maori Affairs. As they began to contemplate retirement from public office, the spectre of who takes their positions is being queried. There are a series of probable succession challenges looming. The first is a confirmed one from Te Ururoa-Flavell a Maori Party M.P. seeking to take Pita Sharples’ position. The second is not confirmed not least because Hone Harawira is not even a Maori Party M.P., but as an-ex Member with significant support in his electorate of Te Tai Tokerau the son of Maori activist Titewhai Harawira, Mr Harawira has indicated he thinks a reconciliation with the Party that expelled him is necessary.
Although these two Members of Parliament have given significant time to the governance of Aotearoa/New Zealand, they will leave behind numerous questions for the new leaders to answer. The failure to address the core problems of Maori failing in the school system, their inability to get jobs and higher likelihood of being represented in the crime statistics must surely rankle Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples. The failure to address all of the outstanding Treaty of Waitangi settlements still under negotiation and the prospect of asset sales raising new legal issues will mean that there is plenty on the plate of the new leadership.
Perhaps a more disturbing question for Maori is the long term survival of the Maori Party in Parliament given that it’s membership has fallen from over 24,000 when Hone Harawira was a member, to just over 600. The minimum number of members for a political party to be registered in New Zealand is 500 paying members. If the Maori Party becomes too small to record party votes what would that mean for its ability to be a part of Government?