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Race row could escalate ahead of election

Published: 10:05AM Monday May 02, 2011 Source: ONE News

Clashes over race issues are likely to become more common in the run up to November's general election, according to a political commentator.

The battle lines were drawn this weekend as Hone Harawira, who launched his Mana Party on Saturday, likened new Act leader Don Brash to Hitler.

"Issues of ethnicity are still huge in New Zealand society. Maybe they've died down in recent years but it will be big in this election and both parties are going to politicise those issues," Bryce Edwards told TV ONE's Breakfast.

"Each time Hone Harawira criticises Don Brash, and Don Brash criticises the Maori Party they're going to love it. Each side will feed off it - they want the attention."

Harawira told TV ONE's Q A on Sunday he opposes the type of politics Brash advocated in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

"They are the politics that would denigrate Maori, that would reduce us to simply being another ethnic minority in our own country. They are the politics that would destroy the lives of the poor."

Brash had questioned the need for reserved seats in Parliament for Maori politicians and defended himself against Harawira's criticisms.

"I want Maori - like Asians, like Pasifika, like Europeans - to have equal rights under the law, right now they don't - they have preferential rights."

Edwards said the verbal jousting between the smaller parties could benefit those in the mainstream.

"It will put pressure on the mushy middle of National and Labour but they will love it because they will be able to seen as the responsible moderate voices of reason in that debate and they will push the extreme line that Don Brash and Hone Harawira are extremists and don't vote for them," he said.

Harawira is set to call a by-election in his electorate Te Tai Tokerau ahead of November's general election to establish a fresh mandate for himself and his new party.

It is expected to cost $500,000, but Edwards said it is likely to offer only a minor distraction.

"Hopefully it will be about some real policy ideas, but I doubt the parties will go into it, they'll just let him have his sideshow, ignore it and hope it will go away."

Harawira also faces a potential challenge from the Maori Party as relations between them seem to have soured.

A deal made between them to not contest against each other for votes will be broken if Harawira resigns for a by-election.

AUT history professor Dr Paul Moon said if Harawira does go for the Maori seats, the vote between the Mana and Maori parties will be split.

Professor Moon says there is a great deal of ill-will between people in both parties.