Kingi Tuheitia came out and endorsed the new candidate for the Māori Party, Rahui Papa in the seat of Hauraki-Waikato – not such a big deal. But in the process he said, “If Nanaia [Mahuta] wants to stay in there, and if Nanaia doesn’t want to come off there, she’s with Labour, she’s not with the Kingitanga.”
While the current king is the one making these comments, they are being encouraged, or probably more accurately, he is being manipulated, by his advisor Tuku Morgan – the Māori Party president. As Winston Peters points out, “The King has been used by Morgan, a former NZ First MP, to get involved in domestic politics and he should remain neutral”.
Why does any of this matter?
Well, firstly it’s not kaupapa Māori, which is ironic given how the Māori Party recently lectured the public about what kaupapa Māori was. And while we might fight party to party, we do not turn on our own.
Nanaia Mahuta is the Labour MP for Hauraki-Waikato and daughter of the late Sir Robert Mahuta – the adopted older brother to the late and much loved Queen Dame Te Atairaangikahu. She could not be more connected to the Kingitanga movement. Just six months ago she received her moko kauae in honour of the Queen, and ten years of Tuheitia’s reign, becoming the first woman in Parliament to wear one.
That makes the King’s comment appalling. But more significantly, Tuku Morgan has put the King and the movement at risk. Tuheitia has naively made the 2017 election a vote on his continued legitimacy and tenure. If the Māori Party fail to win Hauraki-Waikato, it will be a clear signal for Tuheitia to stand down. While you could forgive the king for his naivety, unfortunately, this is politics, and he will wear the consequences. What cannot be so easily forgiven is how the Māori Party’s president has manipulated an important Māori movement and its leader, a movement that essentially is about uniting Māori, all for his own gain – and severely damaged its mana.
Whatever your view of Nanaia Mahuta, what cannot be denied is her love for the Kingitanga and the people of Tainui and her lifelong commitment to both, that’s true mana.
In the end, the Māori Party have made their biggest political blunder. The people of Tainui will not be so easily manipulated and will be feeling for Nanaia after Tuheitia’s comments. If anything, this will encourage Hauraki-Waikato voters to come out in support for Nanaia on 23 September, not just to vote against the Māori Party, but to send a clear message that it’s time for change in the Kingitanga, which many have been feeling for a long time.