Coalitions will form the next New Zealand government and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has declared he holds the balance of responsibility to decide who.
With 99 per cent of the votes counted, National looks to have secured 58 seats in the next parliament but even with their sole surviving current coalition partner it’s still not enough to get them over the line.
They would need New Zealand First’s 7.5 per cent and the nine seats that come with it to get over the 61 seats needed to form government.
But Labour on 35.8 per cent (45 seats) could just manage to scrape the numbers with the Green Party on 5.8 per cent (seven seats) and NZ First.
“As things stand I believe that we do have the balance of political responsibility,” Mr Peters said on Saturday night.
“We’re not going to squander that opportunity. The decision we’ll make and everyone of my colleagues will know that it’s not going to be premature.”
He wrapped up his speech just as Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was leaving home to head to her campaign party.
A cheer went up at the National campaign party when Ms Ardern noted the incumbent Nationals had secured a larger vote than the left block of Labour and the Green Party combined, with many believing they were about to hear the Labour leader concede.
She told supporters she had called National leader Bill English, but to acknowledge neither of them would determine the outcome.
“I simply cannot predict at this point what decision other leaders will take,” she said.
But Green Party co-leader James Shaw is confident the three opposition parties will form government.
“New Zealanders overwhelmingly voted for change,” he said.
While Ms Ardern took a slightly cautious approach to her speech, Mr English sounded much more victorious when he addressed crowds at 11.30pm (9.30pm AEST).
He’ll be on the phone to Mr Peters first thing Sunday morning, revealing he wants to get on with negotiations “reasonably quickly”.
“The voters have spoken and we have the responsibility of working to build strong and stable government,” he said.
Mr Peters has set October 12 as his deadline for deciding government.
He has been kingmaker, a label he despises, twice before but history is no indication of what decision he’ll make this time around.
In 1996, he sided with National, working alongside prime minister Jim Bolger and later his successor Jenny Shipley, who coincidentally was having dinner at the same restaurant as Mr Peters’ party on Saturday night.
But the coalition ended badly when Ms Shipley sacked Mr Peters from cabinet.
In 2005, he sided with Labour, giving Helen Clark a third term as prime minister.
The big loser of Saturday night was the Maori Party which lost its two MPs, Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox, ending their support relationship with National.