Ratana unveiling for Turia's successor?

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013
TARIANA TURIA: Maori Party co-leader.

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Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia's successor may be identified at the annual Ratana Church celebrations this month.

MP Te Ururoa Flavell says he will be "comfortable" taking over the leadership after Turia announced in December that she would stand down at the 2014 election to spend more time with family, including the granddaughter she and husband, George, raise.

Her announcement leaves the party at a crossroads as it struggles to retain support.

Press secretary Kaapua Smith-Purkis and former MP Rahui Katene have been touted as potential leadership replacements, but neither has strong links to Turia's Te Tai Hauauru electorate.

Victoria University Maori studies academic Maria Bargh said Turia had a strong fan base at Ratana, within her electorate, and the meeting there would be a "prime time" for the Maori Party to start introducing, or indicating, the next leader.

Bargh asked: "Is [Turia] going on with someone in particular? Is she introducing someone around the place as her successor or something?"

The Maori Party constitution requires a male and female co-leader. Co-leader Pita Sharples has yet to confirm whether he will stand in 2014, but the party's only other MP is ready to take over.

Flavell told the Sunday Star-Times he would be "comfortable" stepping up if there was an opening. "It's a little bit difficult in the sense that I would be the only one left and I think it wouldn't help our cause by losing all the MPs."

Flavell's supporters attempted to introduce a single-leader model last year but were over-ruled.

The party will meet at Ratana to discuss the process for replacing Turia and changes to the party's constitution, Flavell said.

Every January hordes of Ratana's 60,000 followers descend on a small settlement, near Whanganui, to celebrate the birthday of the religion's founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana. Recently it has become the first major political event of the year with each major party represented.

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