WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The leader of the New Zealand First Party, which emerged as the kingmaker after an inconclusive weekend election, said on Wednesday he would not make a decision on who should form government until after the Oct. 7 release of a final count.
Still to be counted are “special votes”, ballots from overseas voters and those who vote outside their home constituencies, which account for 15 percent of total votes.
While they are not expected to change the result, with the ruling National Party ahead with a comfortable 10 point lead, they could add seats to the possible Labour-Green coalition, making New Zealand First more comfortable to go with them, despite the fact they did not win the largest number of seats.
“I can’t with any intelligence - and nor can my colleagues -tell you what we’re going to do until we’ve seen all the facts,” Winston Peters, the outspoken leader of the New Zealand First Party, told a press conference in Wellington.
Peters, who spoke after meeting with his caucus, gave little away on what his party will demand in return for supporting Prime Minister Bill English or opposition Labour leader Ardern to form a coalition government.
Negotiations are expected to take weeks, with those who have worked with Peters saying the final decision will be his.
“Nobody knows what Winston Peters or NZ First will do, at this stage they don’t know what they’ll do,” Tau Henare, a former lawmaker for both NZ First and National, tweeted on Wednesday. “But when Winston finds out, they’ll know.”
The 72-year-old Peters, a colorful populist and former foreign minister, has served in both National and Labour governments in the past.
The National Party secured 58 seats, ahead of the 52 won by the Green Party and Labour in Saturday’s election, leaving both still in need of NZ First’s nine seats to reach the tally of 61 required to form a government.
Both parties have indicated in recent days that they are willing to offer the carrot of the deputy leadership to Peters.
An alternative option, and one that Peters took in 2005, was to strike a confidence and supply deal, in which New Zealand First would vote in favor of a governing party’s important legislation, like the budget, but remain outside cabinet.
On paper, Peters has more in common with Labour policies, including curbing immigration, and those who know him say that he’d find the option of serving as a high-ranking cabinet member to a relative political newcomer like 37-year-old Ardern an attractive proposition. He has also been scathing of English’s performance as leader.
But Peters also has a track record of siding with the party that wins the most votes in an election, and is less than complimentary about Labour’s minority partner, the Green Party.
“Everything is negotiable,” said NZ First MP Tracey Martin.
“It depends how flexible the National Party wants to be, I suppose.”
Peters has been in parliament since 1978 and was a member of the National Party until he formed New Zealand First in 1993. He was first cast as kingmaker in 1996, when he famously put off coalition talks the day after the election to go fishing.
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Ana Nicolaci da Costa. Writing by Jane Wardell. Editing by Michael Perry