Maiki Sherman: What the King's move means in Māori Game of Thrones

King Tuheitia (Getty)
King Tuheitia (Getty)

OPINION: When it comes to politics there's nothing I love more than a good scrap. Actually, that's not true. There's nothing I love more than a good scrap in an election year.  

So when the Māori King announced he would endorse Rahui Papa as the likely Māori Party candidate for Hauraki-Waikato, I was pumped.

It's going to be a cracker contest - the closest result the electorate has seen in decades. Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta has held a strong majority over the seat for more than 20 years. The King's endorsement of Rahui Papa means the seat has now come into play.

There's no doubt it will be an uphill battle for the Māori Party. But make no mistake, it is no longer a done deal for Labour.

Labour currently holds six of the seven Māori seats. At the last election, Hone Harawira was ousted from Parliament and the Māori Party held on to just one seat. Māori politics got very boring, very quickly. Labour's Māori caucus have failed to capitalise on their election success. Meanwhile Te Ururoa Flavell has been sidelined through his ministerial role, leaving Marama Fox to wear the gloves.

Now we are finally seeing strong political moves being made in the Māori arena. It's a Game of Thrones and the people are loving it.

I'm not talking about those hashtagging it up on Twitter. I am talking about the cup-of-tea talks around the kitchen table at aunty's house, down on the marae, or in the staff kitchen at work. The people are talking. Māori politics is buzzing.

The deal between the Māori Party and Mana. That speech by King Tuheitia. The return of Tukoroirangi Morgan. The rise of Willie Jackson. And the attempted overthrow of Peeni Henare in Tāmaki Makaurau. The list goes on, and we still have six months to go.

Nanaia Mahuta (supplied)
Nanaia Mahuta (supplied)

The problem with a good scrap though is people get hurt. And then there are cries of foul play. And there is nothing more annoying than faux outrage. This is politics. This is election year. Someone has to lose and there will be bruised egos.

I'm not saying I support dirty politics, not at all. But that is not what is happening here.

The Māori King has entered the political arena. He has tipped his hat to Rahui Papa.

What is being criticised though are the King's comments toward the incumbent, Nanaia Mahuta.

Media reports, including my own, were light on context. So here it is. The King's comments were aimed at all of those in leadership positions within Waikato-Tainui. He targeted those in management and board positions whether junior or senior and encouraged them to "produce results" or "move over for someone who can". King Tuheitia has been known to intervene in tribal leadership matters in the past. And yes, that has resulted in casualties.

He ended this segment by asking, "I hope that makes sense?" To which kuia sitting in the crowd replied, "it does, it does". There were lots of nods around the marae.

King Tuheitia then turned to politics. He spoke of having kept a close eye on Parliament since his surprise address at last year's coronation celebrations. It was there he severed all ties to Labour. Part of this was due to Labour's demotion of Nanaia Mahuta.

"Just looking what Labour has done to Nanaia... she's gone right to the backbench now."

There were sighs from the marae. Not of surprise but of sadness.

"To me she's got no mana in there now," he said.

King Tuheitia then expressed his dismay at Labour's newly elected deputy leader, Jacinda Ardern. "She's only been in there five long's Nanaia been in there? 21 years."

He criticised Labour's treatment of its other Māori MPs, including Peeni Henare. If you're wondering what he's referring to, here's a reminder - Willie Jackson, Tāmaki Makaurau.

These were comments by the Māori King disappointed in the treatment of Māori MPs. They were made on his marae to his people. He ordered our cameras outside the gate when he stood to speak.

Unfortunately, I did not travel all the way from Wellington to sit idle. I took notes, observed, and did my job. That may land me in the sin-bin. So be it. I was banned from his coronation celebrations last year anyway. That's another story.

But it was perhaps King Tuheitia's final comment that sparked the most outrage.

"If Nanaia wants to stay in there... she's with Labour, she's not with Kingitanga."

He's not wrong here. Whether or not you agree with King Tuheitia's move to weigh in on national politics, he is the King. And the King has spoken.

Not only is there a fight for the seat, but there is also now an underlying referendum on the King and therefore the King Movement. To lose would not only be an embarrassment but it would chip away at the credibility of the King and therefore the movement. A vote for Nanaia is a vote against the King.

The stakes could not be higher. It is a tense standoff. A good scrap. Head to head. Blow for blow. And yes, sometimes it can be hard to watch. But this is politics. And it's election year.

Maiki Sherman is a Newshub reporter.