Eventful by-election campaign draws to a close

Te Tai Tokerau by-election candidates are today delivering their parting shots in an eventful campaign marked by interparty tensions, a contender's hospitalisation, and a leader's own-goal against their own candidate.

The by-election has thrown the northernmost Maori electorate into the national spotlight as former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira seeks a mandate in the electorate as leader of his new Mana Party.

He earlier seemed assured of regaining the seat but the race has become increasingly tight ahead of tomorrow's voting, which could be a pointer for the Maori electorates at the November general election.

Attempting to throw a spanner in Mr Harawira's works are Labour candidate Kelvin Davis, who has glided through the much of the campaign without controversy, and Maori Party candidate Solomon Tipene, who has suffered from health problems and lacklustre polling.

The only independent poll ahead of the by-election, released last week, showed Mr Harawira on 41 percent, Mr Davis on 40 percent and Mr Tipene a distant third on 15 percent.

There is likely to be strong voter turnout tomorrow at 133 polling stations, if advance voting figures are anything to go by.

By-election returning officer Shayne Mathieson said 1361 early votes had been cast so far.

That compared well with other by-elections and the 2008 general election, when 1129 early votes were received for the electorate by the same point.

A total of 32,080 voting packs had been sent out last week.

It has been a campaign marked by tensions between the Mana and Maori parties, with Mr Harawira this week accusing his opponent of "bullshit tactics" after Mr Tipene cancelled an appearance at a by-election education debate because he was hospitalised overnight with a stomach infection.

Mr Tipene said he was disgusted by the remark and vowed he could win.

But his chances were this week undermined by his own party co-leader, Tariana Turia, who commented on his political inexperience and seemed to suggest Mr Harawira would win.

Ms Turia later admitted she "stuffed up" over the comments and said the party fully backed its contender.

Mr Tipene yesterday issued a lengthy statement in which he reiterated that he could win.

"I'm determined to carry the voice of Tai Tokerau into the House, I am determined to make a difference for us," he said.

Mr Harawira today said it had been "a tough campaign" in which his opponents had spent tens of thousands of dollars on trying to keep him out of Parliament.

"So it's really heartening to know that despite all that we're still ahead in the latest polls," he said.

He thanked his supporters and gave his best wishes to his opponents.

"But Solomon needs a rest, and Kelvin is already on the list," he said.

That Mr Davis is already in Parliament as a list MP has not stopped him from gaining traction.

He has for the most part steered clear of the campaign controversy and has focused on his policy platform of unemployment, low wages, high prices and asset sales.

Labour leader Phil Goff this week said he expected Mr Davis to benefit from the stoush between Mr Harawira and his former party.

"I have had former Maori Party voters saying that their intention was to vote for Labour," he said.

"Some people will vote for Kelvin for that reason, many more will vote for him because of the positive policies that he is putting forward."

The campaign ends today at midnight, by which time all hoardings need to be taken down and electioneering must cease.

Polling takes place from 9am to 7pm tomorrow, with the final results expected by 10pm.


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