As the Maori Party battles for survival, its political opponents are already fighting to pick up the lost votes.
But politicians were given a stern warning during festivities at Ratana Pa, near Whanganui, yesterday: "Never take for granted the Maori electorate vote ever again".
"We may be small, we may be neglected, we may be in poverty but we have survived, we are alive and it ain't finished yet," Ratana speaker Ruia Aperehama said.
He predicted that Labour and the Greens would govern in 2014.
He told Labour leader David Shearer: "Mr Shearer, I hope that in 12 months time that you and your government will be successful, with a strong coalition."
Mr Aperehama said the Maori and Mana parties should get over their "imploding and tribal fighting" and come together.
Mr Shearer said he hoped Mr Aperehama was a prophet, and pledged to continue developing his relationship with the Ratana church movement.
While politicians normally spend a day at the annual celebrations, Mr Shearer is staying on to attend the religious service this morning.
Prime Minister John Key told the people of Ratana they must look past the rhetoric at what had been achieved by the different political parties.
"[Labour] can turn up here at Ratana and tell you they love you but they didn't love you enough to fix up your 113 houses," he said, referring to National's housing programme in the town.
"The record of the National Government in office is of one that delivers. Talk's cheap, delivery's a little harder."
Mr Key said he wasn't worried about predictions of a Labour win next election. "I think [Mr Shearer] should go around New Zealand and tell New Zealanders he's going to have a Labour, Greens, Mana Party, anybody else coalition and see whether he can get it over the line in 2014."
Mr Key also said he did not believe a coalition between the Mana and Maori parties was likely. "Everyone knows (Mana leader) Hone Harawira is not reliable. As Tariana [Turia] said . . . him coming back is a comedy show. I think he's watching 7 Days."
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, meanwhile, has managed to stave off the challenge to his leadership for now as the party agreed to reconvene in the next few months.
But the threat from Te Ururoa Flavell is very much alive and Mr Harawira's offer of a merger is still there. Dr Sharples left Ratana early yesterday morning and Mr Flavell refused to comment.
Maori Party co-leader Mrs Turia said six of the party's seven electorate committees had agreed to hold a special meeting in coming months to discuss the leadership. The meeting would also discuss how to replace her when she stands down at the next election.
Mrs Turia said other parties were "standing in line" to pick up Maori Party voters.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei became one of the few women allowed to speak during official Ratana proceedings.
She stressed her own personal links to the movement, recalling attending the celebrations as a young girl and even having her first kiss there at 12.
NZ First leader Winston Peters said the Maori Party could not survive and a merger with Mana would be damaging for both sides.
- The Dominion Post
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