The Maori Party is in turmoil as it holds crisis talks about how it can survive.
Leadership struggles within the party have come to a head with co-leader Pita Sharples admitting Te Ururoa Flavell is challenging him for the role and former colleague Mana Party leader Hone Harawira throwing his hat in the ring.
Co-leader Tariana Turia is increasing pressure on Dr Sharples to stand aside and said the party should have a "way forward" by today.
It held a meeting late last night at Ratana, near Wanganui, where members are gathered for celebrations of the Maori church.
Mr Harawira said he had been approached by Maori Party members around the country who were keen for him to take over.
"Clearly they're in dire straits right now, their membership has just dropped through the floor."
Mr Harawira quit the Maori Party ahead of the 2011 election following perpetual infighting.
There would be ground rules to the proposed merger - Mr Harawira wants be the leader and the Maori Party would have to end its relationship with National.
Dr Sharples appeared to be open to the idea, saying there was no point having two Maori parties.
Prime Minister John Key refused to say whether he would continue his relationship with the Maori Party following a merger, but made it clear he had no time for Mr Harawira. "Hone Harawira's made his position when it comes to the National Party very clear and it's mutual, so there's no love lost there."
While a full merger with Mana is unlikely, a deal could include an agreement not to stand in each others seats.
Former Maori Party MP Rahui Katene is keen to stand in Mrs Turia's Te Tai Hauauru electorate and take over as female co-leader.
However, her links are with the Te Tai Tonga seat she lost to Labour in 2011.
Dr Sharples indicated he wanted to stay on as Maori Affairs Minister and Tamaki Makaurau MP, even if ousted as leader.
Mr Key would not rule that out but committed only to discussing it with the Maori party leaders, whoever they were.
Dr Sharples said he wanted to remain as co-leader and believed the people wanted that, too. "It may operate by the vibes of the people and whichever way the vibe is I will probably take it."
It was a shame the contest was being played out in public, he said.
Mr Flavell said decisions around the leadership were in the party's hands.
"It's a job that might fall my way . . . if it falls my way I'll have to make some decisions; if it doesn't, I'll have to make some decisions."
Mrs Turia, who has already announced she will stand down from Parliament in 2014, slammed the proposed merger with Mana.
"Somebody who purports to represent our people and to say that he's got to be the leader, no, no that's not how it works in our party.
"In fact, when I read it, I thought that Hone had started a comedy show to be frank."
She and her colleagues needed to spend time thinking about the future and should have a "way forward" by today.
"I'm very happy. I don't think I've ever been happier," she said of her own decision to stand down.
- The Dominion Post
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