Strict rules for Key electorate event
Politicians who want to share the stage with John Key at his only multi-candidate electorate event have been warned they shouldn't even mention his name.
Candidates vying for the safe National seat of Helensville include Laila Harre, leader of the Internet Party, who is taking on Key because ''the prime minister has some explaining to do'', and she wants a head-to-head debate.
But when Key lines up at the Kumeu Baptist Church northwest of Auckland on Monday, there will be no chance for her to do so.
''It's not a debate. Please don't call it a debate," meeting organiser Holly Ryan said, describing the event as a ''cross-party candidates' meeting'' to give the public a chance to have questions answered.
Those questions must be submitted, in writing, before the event starts.
''There is to be no debate at all. Candidates have been warned they will be thrown out if they mention other candidates or attack any other parties, or anything else like that, at all,'' Ryan said.
Silence would be demanded from everyone but the speaker, with one warning before those disrupting the meeting would be removed.
''It's on that basis that the prime minister agreed to be there.''
A spokeswoman for Key said he would take part in only one multi-candidate event in his electorate, which was ''the same as the last election campaign''.
His office had played no role in the shaping of the rules for the event, she said.
The meeting is almost a fortnight before National officially launches its campaign, but is shaping up as one of the highlights of the pre-election phase.
Harre said she still hoped Key would accept her challenge to ''debate the issues'' during the campaign, otherwise she would ''chase'' him.
''The prime minister should be prepared to debate candidates on the issues in his electorate. That is democracy. If the prime minister is going to run and hide, we will chase him and present our challenges to him over the next seven weeks.''
The meeting was originally to have been held in the smaller community hall nearby, when there was little hope of Key attending.
She said she asked his office just in case and, after presenting the proposed rules of engagement and giving flexibility over dates, she had been surprised to learn that he would attend, forcing the meeting to be moved.
The church holds about 230 people but, with seating borrowed from the hall and people sitting in the foyer and outside, she believed she could manage about 400.
She admitted even that might not be enough.
''We're well aware we have no idea what to expect, but the fact is there's not another venue in the area that would potentially take the crowd anyway.''