By Sarah Robson
Prime Minister John Key's absence is likely to take some of the heat out of big protests expected at Waitangi.
February 5 is the day politicians of all stripes descend on Te Tii Marae - Waitangi's so-called lower marae - and in previous years it's been the scene of tense face-offs, scuffles and mud-slinging.
Protests against the just-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal have been planned for Friday and they were expected to cause problems for Mr Key, including possibly preventing him from even reaching the marae.
But his decision not to go to Waitangi at all, amid concerns he'd be subject to a "gagging order" stopping him from speaking freely in the whare, may go some way to diffusing a potentially tense situation.
Mr Key denies he's running scared.
"I've been very keen to go, I gave a commitment that I'd go every year," he told reporters.
In 2007, when he was opposition leader, Mr Key promised he would go to Waitangi every year.
But because he hasn't been able to get assurances he'd have full speaking rights on the marae, as he has in previous years, Mr Key has made the call not to go this time.
Ngapuhi elder Kingi Taurua, who was one of the most vocal opponents of Mr Key being allowed on to the marae, said he and others remain angry about the way the government has dealt with Maori in relation to the TPP.
He said Mr Key's offer to talk about the TPP at Waitangi after the deal was signed was "arrogant".
"That is not the right way to do it, that's wrong," he told NZ Newswire.
Mr Taurua and others have complained that Maori weren't properly consulted before the 12-nation trade deal was finalised.
Even though the prime minister's not there, Labour leader Andrew Little and a number of his MPs, along with a strong contingent of Green Party MPs, including co-leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw, will continue to be welcomed on to Te Tii Marae on Friday morning.
Mr Key isn't the first prime minister to skip events at Waitangi. Helen Clark didn't attend any events at Waitangi in 2000 and 2001.