The announcement by Prime Minister John Key that the Government will delay the partial sale of Mighty River Power until next year came as a bit of a surprise.
There was general consensus that Mr Key would probably forge ahead with his plan to sell shares in state assets, starting with Mighty River Power. But it seems as if he has hesitated because of opposition from Maori.
Mr Key went into the last election adamant that an asset-sale programme was part of the Government's plan. When he won the election comfortably, he claimed this gave him the mandate for the partial sale of assets.
At each step of the process, Mr Key and his Government have shown a determination to forge ahead with the process, but the public mood seems to be shifting.
In the beginning, the feeling was that while there might be some people opposed to the sale it would not deter Mr Key. However, there has been a groundswell of opposition recently and last week's call by the Waitangi Tribunal for the Government to halt the partial sale of Mighty River Power increased the pressure even more. The tribunal said the partial privatisation would affect its ability to make redress to Maori rights in water.
It called for an urgent hui about how Maori rights over fresh water are recognised. The tribunal issued its report on claims brought by the council and 10 hapu and iwi, which seek to delay the Government's partial asset-sale programme until Maori claims over water are considered.
At first, Mr Key said the tribunal's decision would not stop him - but a week is a long time in politics. His political ally, the Maori Party, has put pressure on him to delay the sale and he has probably received Crown legal advice that there might be more pitfalls ahead.
He has made the right decision and will use the time to consult with Maori. One can't help thinking Mr Key may have painted himself into a corner on this one.
He may find himself consulting more people than he originally thought he would have to. This is good for democracy but not necessarily good for Mr Key's plan to sell state assets. Already his political foes, Labour and the Greens, are demanding that he consult all New Zealanders by holding a referendum.
The Green Party is in the Keep Our Assets coalition, which has collected 240,000 signatures as it strives to get the 310,000 needed to trigger a citizens' initiated referendum. The coalition has launched a drive to collect the remaining signatures by the end of next month. Mr Key would not have to listen to the referendum result but it would put him under even more pressure.
Suddenly it does not seem like it is all smooth sailing for the National Government. Our populist Prime Minister is probably aware of how much he has to lose if he gets this one wrong. Only time will tell. Andrew Austin is editor for Hawke's Bay Today newspaper