Hone Harawira's party trick

According to a variety of sources, the intention of former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, now independent Member of Parliament for the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, to resign and force a by-election in which he would stand under the banner of his newly formed Mana Party, is either a farce, a joke or a stunt.

There is some force in each of these positions - held by senior politicians including Prime Minister John Key and leader of the opposition Phil Goff. For were he, having consulted his constituents in Te Tai Tokerau, to proceed with such plans, the by-election would cost the taxpayer $500,000 and, assuming he is elected, he would have just 21 sitting days in Parliament before the November 26 election. That amounts to a mere $23,800 per sitting day.

But that is not the end of the costs involved. Although Mr Harawira would forfeit about $20,000 in lost salary during the by-election campaign, as leader of a party - in this instance and certainly until after the election, a party of one - he would be entitled to a pay rise from $134,800 to $148,500; and since party leaders receive an annual allocation of $100,000, and under the rules he would be eligible for about six months of that contribution, Mr Harawira would receive around $50,000 to cover support services and resources for his new party.

This would doubtless go some way to compensating for the fact that he appears to have missed the cut-off point for election campaign advertising funding.

Mr Harawira justifies the extravagance by suggesting it is simply the price that has to be paid for ensuring democracy, and says he needs to re-establish his mandate with the new party in his electorate. But he surely makes such statements with his tongue firmly in his cheek. For as even his former party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples concedes "you gotta hand it to him . . . it is a very clever stunt".

A by-election six months out from a general election effectively gives Mr Harawira and the Mana Party two bites at the electoral cherry. In the next month or so he will lay out his platform and policies, begin the work of recruiting other potential candidates and establish a party infrastructure in time to contest the general election.

His actions place the Maori Party, and possibly also Labour, in an awkward position with respect to the by-election.

Neither to date has announced whether they will stand against the renegade MP. In the case of the Maori Party it must decide whether to follow to a logical conclusion its claims that Mr Harawira has broken a prior agreement - and stand a candidate against him.

If it does, it might expect Mr Harawira will respond in kind for the general election and field Mana candidates in all the Maori electorate seats. The implications for Maori representation could be considerable. For Labour it is more of a question of whether to dignify the "farce" by committing a candidate to it; or to ignore it and thereby hope to take the political wind out of Mr Harawira's sails.

Labour leader Phil Goff and Prime Minister John Key have both ruled out working with him after the November election, but this likely has more to do with keeping on the right side of the Maori Party with respect to post-election alliances, than necessarily with Mr Harawira's electoral "toxicity".

Under MMP, party leaders have found themselves able to make all manner of policy concessions to construct if not formal coalition partnerships then confidence and supply majorities.

Regardless, the outspoken and forthright former protest leader who espouses a combination of iwi and left-wing politics is bound to be in Parliament in 2012. As leader of a party, he will have a higher profile and additional speaking rights.

And whatever one thinks of his radical views, it must be conceded that they have retained, in this age of political compromise, a refreshing honesty and consistency. In themselves, they might not gain him much support across the New Zealand electorate, but in his own Te Tai Tokerau base - with its large pockets of unemployment, poverty and Maori population - it should mean he will be returned with an increased mandate.


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