Sitting Kaikoura MP Colin King has been dumped by the local National Party branch.
After speculation for months that Mr King was in trouble in the seat, National confirmed last night that it had selected vineyard owner Stuart Smith to stand as its Kaikoura candidate at the next election.
Mr King has represented Kaikoura since 2005, and retained the seat at the last election with an 11,445-vote majority over his closest rival, Labour's Liz Collyns, who got 8516 votes. Green Party candidate Steffan Browning was a distant third with 3784 votes but became a list MP.
The results of last night's vote at a candidate selection meeting in Blenheim were secret, with only the result announced and the ballot papers destroyed afterwards.
Mr King declined to comment immediately after the result, but said in a press release that he was disappointed he would not be able to represent Kaikoura after the next election. "I want to express my support for the National-led Government, and encourage members and supporters in the electorate to get in behind Stuart and National in 2014."
His wife Lynnette and daughter Laressa Shenfield were also at the meeting, and all three left shortly after it ended. An elated Mr Smith said he would spend the next 12 months getting to know the electorate.
"It's like the electorate has two MPs for a year; one's a trainee."
The Kaikoura electorate stretches from Rai Valley down to Amberley in North Canterbury.
Mr Smith disputed accusations that he was a "single-issue person" interested only in the wine industry.
"You can level that accusation that everyone is a single-issue person, no matter what their background. I don't believe I am. I came from a farming background. I had 10 years in a governance role. I've been involved in projects like irrigation and community issues such as the hospital one, as well as grassroots roles in junior rugby and rowing."
He said he had no interest in standing in any other electorate or being on the National list. "It's all about Kaikoura."
A party member for only two years, Mr Smith said he had decided to remain apolitical while leading the New Zealand Winegrowers Association. However, both his and his wife's families were long-time National members. "It's my roots."
Mr Smith said it was a great feeling to be selected, and he thanked the team that had helped him.
There had been speculation that Mr King and other National MPs had been given a message by the party's hierarchy that it was time to step down, but this had been denied by Mr King.
Last night Mr Smith and National Party officials said the decision was made purely by the party's Kaikoura electorate members.
There were more than 200 voting branch delegates and party observers at the meeting. National Party president Peter Goodfellow said last night he had kept an open mind about the result.
"We've have got a democratic process . . . the party is all the local members.
"The National Party has had a number of retirements and resignations.
"There is no pressure on any particular MP to retire."
National's Canterbury-Westland regional chairman Roger Bridge said nothing was predetermined.
He thanked Mr King for his hard work for the electorate.'
The Labour Party is expected to announce its Kaikoura electorate candidate this week.
- The Nelson Mail
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