Opinion: Māori politics now a Game of Thrones
Māori politics is fast becoming a Game of Thrones.
Historic political alliances and allegiances be damned. All bets are off - everything and everyone is fair game.
Just like Game of Thrones, there are seven kingdoms in Māori politics - the seven Māori seats.
As next year's election looms closer, the power plays have begun.
And right at the centre of it is the King himself - Kīngi Tuheitia, the Māori Monarch. His movement, the Kīngitanga, is reasserting its relevance.
It's been a critical issue at the heart of Kīngi Tuheitia's reign.
The King's annual address is the only time he speaks publicly.
Over the years, his speeches have included the personal criticisms faced by the King and the overwhelming need to reaffirm the relevance of the King Movement.
Of equal importance, and intrinsically tied to the two points just mentioned, are the ever-increasing political themes seen in the King's yearly speech.
Māori water rights, Kōhanga Reo, a Treaty of Waitangi claim to greater Auckland, and the question of sovereignty.
All of these issues have been part of an attempt to assert the power of the Kīngitanga.
However, the King Movement does not command the same power it once had with the Government of the time.
The movement itself, as noted by the King in his annual addresses, has had to work on rebuilding its support amongst the Māori people.
A king with fractured support from his own tribes is a king whose power is also fractured, leaving cracks for any government to divide and conquer.
Securing major concessions such as shared sovereignty then would be an uphill battle.
And so, politically at least, a strategy is needed to strengthen the King's hand in the realm of Parliament.
Cue the King's speech of 2016 that attacked Labour.
It was claimed the King went off script this year. But this is not the case.
Labour leader Andrew Little was set up - he was sitting front and centre moments before the King's address was delivered.
Little's only saving grace was that a Labour press secretary was tipped off by the media manager of the King's coronation that the King's critique was about to come.
With the King about to launch an attack, a golf cart was called on to whisk the Labour leader to safety, away from the embarrassment that would soon unfold.
The King said he would not be voting for Labour again and criticised the leader for his unwillingness to work with the Māori Party.
He then went on to back the Māori Party, with a nod also to Hone Harawira's Mana Movement.
What's important to note here is the speech was not influenced or written by the King's formal advisory council known as Tekau-mā-rua - a group of tribal leaders across the country. They were completely unaware such a political stance would be taken in his speech this year.
Instead, the speech is said to have been crafted within the King's Office.
And there is one person who has strong standing within that office - The King's Hand.
Tukoroirangi Morgan has been the King's Hand - the King's closest adviser - for many years.
During the King's annual address, Tuku Morgan has symbolically stood behind the King.
And Morgan now has another job - he was recently appointed President of the Māori Party.
He is expected to be a game-changer for the Māori Party. The latest developments with the Kīngitanga support is a clear sign of this.
Morgan's strategy and game plan will be well thought out.
The first move was to extend an olive branch to the Mana Movement. Breakfast with Hone Harawira. Nothing too formal. Just make sure the media know all about it. A sign of good gesture. No time to waste - the King's coronation celebrations were fast approaching.
And the backing of both the Māori Party and Mana Movement by the King in his annual address was anything but a coincidence.
Make no mistake - Tuku is the mastermind here. Tuku is back.
A Maori Party-Mana alliance is the ultimate marriage of convenience in the Seven Kingdoms.
The seed was already sown following the meeting between Tukoroirangi Morgan and Hone Harawira. And standing at the altar to anoint this marriage is none other than the King himself.
He made reference to what this marriage could mean for Māori in his address this year.
A formal merger is highly unlikely.
But a marriage of convenience is very much on the cards. A deal is almost certain to be struck in the Seven Kingdoms.
Both parties need each other. Yes they have been fighting, but the bad blood needs to end. Kīngi Tuheitia's endorsement has eased the pathway to achieving that.
The King's endorsement of Mana though has served more reasons than one. It would be a hard sell to say the Kīngitanga was backing an independent Māori voice without acknowledging Mana.
The marriage has been arranged. All that is left now are the formalities.
The real power-play here is the King's endorsement of the Māori Party and setting up its alliance with Mana.
In order to strengthen the Kīngitanga's political relevancy, they need to secure more concessions from the Government.
The return of Rangiriri Pā from the Crown is an example of this. It was the jewel in the King's crown at this year's coronation celebrations.
The Māori Party's lobbying of the Government for the return was crucial.
And in this year's Budget, the Māori Party received $4 million to support New Zealand Land Wars commemorations - another win for Kīngitanga.
The King and his office are well and truly aware of the benefits of sitting at the Government table.
Unlike other political parties, the Māori Party is not tied to the greater party needs and wants. Māori aspirations come first.
And so the King is taking over the Māori Party - a movement capable of doing the Kīngitanga's bidding at the Government table. And sitting across from John Key will be none other than Tukoroirangi Morgan.
The Kīngitanga has wasted no time at all since the King's speech. A flying visit to Wellington saw the Chief of Staff of the Kīngitanga's office, Te Rangihiroa Whakaruru, meet with the Māori Party co-leaders only days later.
A joint press release followed in which it stated the Māori Party and the Kīngitanga would now work together on key issues for the betterment of Māori.
The Māori Party has been hijacked by the Kīngitanga - they just don't know it yet.
So, where does Nanaia Mahuta sit in all of this? The Hauraki-Waikato MP has been the political princess of the Kīngitanga for two decades. Mahuta is the daughter of the late Sir Robert Mahuta, the adopted son of former King Koroki, and elder brother of the late Queen Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu.
This year, Mahuta celebrates 20 years in Parliament with the Labour Party. King Tuheitia's condemnation of Labour in his speech raises questions for the local MP.
Questions have been swirling for a while about whether Mahuta will contest the next election. While she has confirmed she intends to stand, inside sources reveal that is not the case. The King's attack on Labour all but confirm this. It is no longer a question of if, but simply when Mahuta will step down.
The King's criticism and its inferred message for voters to ditch Labour now makes it far too awkward for Mahuta to stand at the next election. Hauraki-Waikato are block voters. They have backed Mahuta over the years, much of it based on loyalty.
And loyalty should not be underestimated when it comes to Māori politics. When Labour announced its reshuffle in December 2015, Mahuta was demoted down the list. This caused outrage among Hauraki-Waikato constituents and the Kīngitanga. The King's spokesman Tuku Morgan came out firing saying Little would regret it and the snub would come back to bite the party in the backside. The Kīngitanga has delivered on that promise.
The King's comment that he would no longer vote Labour is a nod to the Kīngitanga and Hauraki-Waikato constituents that change lies ahead.
Labour has now been outcast by the Māori King, and therefore, the Hauraki-Waikato electorate.
Expect the Māori Party to win this seat at next year's election. That takes Labour's hold of the Seven Kingdoms down to five of the seven Māori seats.
However, with at least another year out from the election, expect further moves to take place in the interim.
As the old saying goes, you ain't seen nothing yet.
At the last election, Labour regained its stronghold over the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate.
This Kingdom is presided over by the Rātana Church - a movement with strong historic ties to Labour.
But this seat was previously held by the Māori Party's Tariana Turia. The question will be whether they take heed of the King's message and entertain the possibility of also outcasting Labour.
To Little's credit, he has made significant strides with the Rātana Movement over the past year. His trip to Rātana outside the public political events may pay dividends. Labour has also committed to policy creation with the Rātana leadership.
And finally, sitting pretty on the ninth floor of the Beehive castle is the gatekeeper, the Prime Minister.
Any attack on Labour is of benefit to National. Labour holds a strong party vote among Māori. An attack on Labour is an attack on its party vote.
What's more is the Māori Party growing in numbers is beneficial to National.
The pair have enjoyed a strong relationship in a coalition government.
According to a media advisor in the King's office, John Key and Kīngi Tuheitia have had at least three meetings in the past six months.
It is questionable then whether Key's non-appearance at this year's coronation events was planned. Best not to distract political discussions given the king-hit to be delivered in the King's annual address.
A stronger Māori Party could also be another saviour for National in that it may not have to rely on the Kingmaker - Winston Peters.
The Māori King could save Key from Winston the Kingmaker.
Yet, as they say - a year is a long time in politics. Anything could happen.
But one thing is certain - the Māori politics Game of Thrones is well and truly underway.