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Sharples defiantly says he won't stand down

Published: 7:09PM Thursday January 17, 2013 Source: ONE News

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples will not be standing down at the next election.

Speculation that he 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, and hinted that he would do the same.

But today, Sharples, 71, said he would retain the leadership, and not hand over the reins to MP Te Ururoa Flavell, despite long hinting that he would step down come next year.

"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 today.

He added that his constituents want him to stay.

The defiant announcement has raised questions over whether the party can survive long term. 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.

Plans to promote the party's only other MP, Flavell, into the co-leadership role have long been in the running, with the party's president describing it as an "open secret" in the past.

But Sharples today said he will again seek the leadership role when the party's council meets next week - and he says he expects to get it.

Flavell was unable to speak to ONE News today, but Political Reporter Michael Parkin he understands the MP is annoyed with Sharples' decision, and is considering not running in 2014.

"What Te Ururoa does is his decision, but it would be a sad loss to the Maori Party, a great loss, and I just think he should hang in there," said Sharples.

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.

"Te Ururoa was waiting very patiently for the job, I think unless he steps up they've (the Maori Party) got no show. If he stepped up and won it they've got some chance," political commentator Matt McCarten said.

And with the future of Act uncertain, if the Maori Party goes down, potential coalition partners for the National Party are looking scarce, Parkin said.

Speaking in Christchurch today, Prime Minister John Key, tried to play down the issue.

"The leadership of the Maori Party is something for their members and their caucus to consider, but we look forward to a long-term relationship with them," he said.

All eyes will now be on next week's Ratana commemorations, where the Maori Party leadership battle looks set to take centre stage.