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Accusations of blackmail as Maori Party leadership battle heats up

Published: 6:30PM Monday April 08, 2013 Source: ONE News

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has accused his colleague Te Ururoa Flavell of "blackmail" over the leadership challenge.

Sharples may be in China but the Maori Party leadership scrap has followed him there.

Waiariki MP Flavell has made no secret of the fact he wants Sharples' job, and he is threatening he could resign if he is not co-leader before next year's election.

"It is a kind of blackmail," said Sharples.

"I just hope he stays and that I stay the leader and that he stays with me because he's a good worker, he's a very good worker, his time will come."

Flavell said he has asked his national council to consider him for the position of co-leader of the Maori Party.

"They're going to make that decision at some point in time, after that time I'll give consideration to my future."

The Maori Party constitution states there must be a male and female co-leader.

Sharples says it is not good for the leadership battle to play out in public "because people are feeding it".

"My people are saying don't give in, don't stand down."

He wants the party President Pem Bird to step in and take control. Bird has refused to comment on the issue.

"If we had a really strong National party, they would do something about it instead of leaving it," said Sharples.

"It's come down to talk about 'the Maori Party's in absolute chaos'. Well the Parliamentary side is not. The Parliamentary side is working absolutely."

Speculation that Sharples would follow in the footsteps of co-leader Tariana Turia and move aside to allow fresh blood in the leadership role has been in the air ever since she announced her intention of retiring in 2014.

But, Sharples, 71, said in January he would retain the leadership, and not hand over the reins to Flavell.

"Quite clearly Tariana has said publicly that I should step down. Now she's quite wrong there, it's not her position to say that," Sharples said.

He added that his constituents want him to stay.

Sharples went on to say: "The bottom line is, I'm prepared to lead us until I'm dead."

But without fresh leadership to revive the party's falling support in the polls, there is growing speculation about whether it will be able to survive.

Turia intends to keep her ministerial roles until next year's election, but has made it clear she will hand over her leadership position earlier.

This leadership debate could drag on until the annual conference in November.