'Waka on the water': Māori Party confident they'll secure Waiariki after special votes

The Māori Party is set to return to Parliament if special votes in Waiariki mirror those already counted, but it's close; Rawiri Waititi is leading Labour's Tāmati Coffey by just 415 votes.

Three years after the Waiariki electorate waved goodbye to Te Ururoa Flavell and the Māori Party disappeared from Parliament, the same electorate has called the party back.

But the results aren't yet set in stone for the seat, which includes Tāupo and much of Bay of Plenty. And Coffey has not yet conceded, he's waiting for the special votes to be counted.

Last election there were 446,287 special votes nationally, and Coffey picked up 450.

Waititi said he's confident he'll remain in the lead after they're counted, but agrees with Coffey the special votes are important.

"It's been an awesome campaign, and there seems to be a mood or an appetite to ensure that there's a strong Māori voice in parliament, and Wairariki has shown that," he said. "It's going to come down to specials and it's gonna be a tight race, but what it does say is the Māori Party now has the waka on the water and it doesn't end yet - we're preparing for the next three years."

Coffey said it was too close to tell for sure.

"It's not over; in the last election I benefited from some special votes, and I think that actually we need to wait till those come in until we draw definitive results from tonight's election."

In 2017 the seat was an upset win to Coffey, so the electorate was expected to be a tight race from early on.

Earlier in this election, Māori Party hopes were resting on Debbie Ngarewa-Packer taking Te Tai Hauāuru, but Labour's Adrian Rurawhe won that by more than 1000 votes.

Ngarewa-Packer conceded on Saturday night, but was upbeat off the back of the Waiariki numbers.

"I'm feeling probably disappointed, because I would like to have won tonight.

"But I'm really proud and excited because clearly it shows that with all the odds stacked against us, that we are back. And Waiariki has just proven that point.

"So all we needed to do was be able to reinvigorate the party, show that we're back - I'm proud as hell, as the co-leader for [the] Māori Party. We won a smart, clean campaign, and it's been uplifting."

The Māori Party's other co-leader, John Tamihere, was standing in Tāmaki Makaurau, which has stayed with Peeni Henare, who is more than 900 votes ahead. Tamihere said despite losing, he's proud of the efforts this election.

"To our brothers and sisters in Labour, that have done well tonight, I just want to mihi to you, because it's not about you and me - it's about us.

"We wish you the best in the next three years in looking after our people, remembering our people, standing up for our people."

The other four Māori seats, Te Tai Tonga, Hauraki-Waikato, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and Te Tai Tokerau were all won comfortably by Labour.

Kelvin Davis, Labour's deputy leader, said it's clear that Māori have confidence in the party's Māori Caucus.

"We've made some good gains in this term that we've been in Government, in particular in terms of Māori education and corrections and Māori crown relations. And we've just got to keep searching for those wins and those gains for our people."

Labour were also celebrating Māori MPs winning general seats, with Kiri Allan in East Coast, Shanan Halbert in Northcote, Jo Luxton in Rangitata, and Arena Williams in Manurewa set to join Labour's Māori caucus in Parliament soon.

While the Waiariki candidates wait for the final tally, the Māori Party will also be hoping the specials and the reallocation of wasted votes give them enough share of the party vote to have another MP join Rawiri Waititi in Wellington.