NZ Election 2020: TOP keen to work with Māori Party after unexpected endorsement from John Tamihere

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has thrown its support behind the Māori Party, talking up a possible joining of forces after this year's election.

On Thursday, Māori Party co-leader surprised many when he said TOP would be his preferred coalition partner, should his party be in a place to pick the next Government. 

"In terms of policy settings, we're closest with TOP," he told The AM Show. "They've got some outstanding ideas."

His former party Labour was Tamihere's second choice, followed by the Greens. 

The leftfield call surprised TOP, which like many of the minor parties this year, is struggling to get traction in the polls.

"It's great to see John Tamihere from the Māori Party pick TOP as their preferred coalition partner, and we're on the same page," TOP leader Geoff Simmons told Newshub.

"After the election, we'd be happy to work with the Māori Party to advocate on the issues that both of our parties are passionate about."

Simmons said the two parties are closer in terms of policy than people might realise.

"We'd be a strong voice for the environment, water rights, and housing issues, when teamed up together. In particular Māori have a track record of knowing how to deliver services effectively for their people and TOP is an advocate for all communities to have more of a say in the services that affect them. So there is a lot of common ground."

A formal arrangement between the two would have shades of the 2014 merger of the Internet Party and Mana. The Internet Party, like TOP, was founded by a millionaire; and Mana, like the Māori Party now, was more focused on issues that affect Māori, such as indigenous rights, poverty and inequality. 

That arrangement failed, ending Mana leader Hone Harawira's parliamentary career.

TOP's wealthy founder Gareth Morgan quit in 2019, leaving the party in Simmons' hands. While it's too late for TOP and Tamihere to work together this election, Simmons says strategic voting could help both parties.

"If you are in a Māori electorate, we'd love you to party vote TOP, and we encourage you to use your candidate vote for the Māori Party. 

"For the Treaty partnership to work, tangata whenua need strong representation in Parliament. That simply doesn't happen if they are tucked away in a major party. A Māori voice in our Government is desperately lacking at the moment and we sincerely hope the Māori Party pick up seats to get their voice back into Parliament."

The Māori Party was bundled out in 2017, after nearly a decade of being in partnership with the centre-right National Party. They've changed leadership and policy direction since, with one candidate earlier this week saying National was too "racist" to deal with again.