Leaders campaign to cultivate friends rich and poor

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples (centre) meets supporters at the Otara flea market in...
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples (centre) meets supporters at the Otara flea market in Auckland on Saturday. Photo by Dene MacKenzie.
The campaign trail in Auckland during the weekend was one of contrasts.

Taking the Pulse started at the trail early on Saturday morning at the Otara flea market where the smells and sounds of Polynesia and Asia intermingled. The tables were piled high with tofu and taro.

The cacophony of sounds was a mixture of island drumming, island music played loudly over a sound system and the endless campaigning of aspiring and established politicians through microphones and megaphones.

Steamed pork buns and fried rice were sold alongside something black wrapped in a banana leaf. Avocados were 10 for $2.

Onward to the Mangere market, where the Polynesian influences were pervasive. Again, taro and tofu, tables piled high with watercress and green bananas. More candidates, more music and more noise.

A pile of toasters nearly my height was for sale in Otara, along with woks, electric frypans, saucepan sets and utensils. Shirts, shorts and shoes were in plentiful supply from 8am.

And what happened to all of the things that were not sold on Saturday? Were they returned for sale next weekend?

The afternoon was spent in the leafy suburb of Remuera, where the air was thick with the smell of money and the only sound was the whisper of BMW, Mercedes and Audi cars and four-wheel-drives gliding past.

I parked outside an apartment building, just off Remuera Rd. The top apartment, which offered stunning views during a quick open home inspection, was for sale. But it seemed that if you had to ask the price, you were not even in the game.

Just a short distance up the Southern Motorway, Remuera is a distant world from the flea markets in the south.

Taking the Pulse drove to Remuera to watch National Party leader John Key and Act New Zealand leader Rodney Hide have a coffee and feign friendship in an event staged purely for the media.

A reserved sign was placed on two strategically positioned tables on the footpath so Messrs Key and Hide could pose dutifully for the cameras.

Mr Key was delayed by the announcement from Finance Minister Michael Cullen on more bank guarantees.

He arrived an hour later full of goodwill and bonhomie towards Mr Hide, who will become a cabinet minister if National becomes the government on Saturday.

Back in Otara, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples greeted me with "Kia Ora. bro"', when I introduced myself. We shared some unidentified doughnut-like food and went out to meet voters.

The first alleyway was a bit of a disappointment as the only people accosting Dr Sharples were Progressive candidate and former Alliance MP Matt Robson and someone trying to sell him a raffle ticket.

"That's where the Maori voters will be," he said pointing across the way. "The food stalls are there and the Maori like their kai."

Sure enough, they were. But we took a few minutes to reach the alley as he first had to greet representatives from the six other parties campaigning at the market and then give his Labour rival for the Tamaki-Makaurau electorate, Louisa Wall, rousing applause as she spoke.

The importance Dr Sharples will play in the next Parliament was evident when Ms Wall called out: "Kia ora to my friend and whanau Pita Sharples. We want to have a relationship with you."

Mr Robson had pressed noses with Dr Sharples and told him the Progressives would form a coalition with the Maori Party if it won enough seats, as both men fell about laughing.

When Manukau East MP Ross Robertson said to Dr Sharples: "Pita, what are you doing in my patch?", Dr Sharples replied: "This is my patch, bro'."

It did seem like it was his patch, especially along the food stall alley.

Dr Sharples was greeted by many of those in the packed alley, all of them promising to vote twice for the Maori Party.

An energetic young woman in pink hot pants hugged and kissed Dr Sharples and told him her whole family were switching both their votes to the Maori Party.

Calls of tena koe, tena korua and tena koutou echoed around as Taking the Pulse lost sight of the charismatic MP.

Back in Remuera, Mr Hide was getting plenty of cheers from supporters.

"I'll be voting for you, Rodney," one man said.

"Tell that to the Otago Daily Times," Mr Hide replied.

Apparently, the son of Mr Hide's supporter had just completed study at the University of Otago and also would be voting for Mr Hide.

Cautious voters would not say who they would tick on the party vote.

Mr Hide and I each ordered a long black as he again recalled that we went to school together in Rangiora.

That is not quite true as he is three years younger than me.

But it is true that we were both at Rangiora primary school at the same time.

Mr Key called into Remuera for coffee with Mr Hide, but he did not visit Otara for doughnuts with Dr Sharples. On Saturday, maybe he will wish he had.

• The weekend was more of a draw between Prime Minister Helen Clark and National Party leader John Key.

Neither of them did anything startling in their capacity as leaders, although Labour did provide more details on bank deposits and Mr Key met publicly with Act New Zealand leader Rodney Hide and promised him a cabinet post in a National-led government.

Miss Clark yesterday promised to bring forward infrastructure spending to save the economy from a prolonged recession. She takes the point.



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