October 12, 2017.
Mark it in your calendars - the day could be as important as September 23 for determining the next government, if not more so.
NZ First leader Winston Peters has revealed to Newsroom that October 12 is when NZ First will announce whether it intends to go with National or Labour in forming the next government - provided his party is in the kingmaker position after Kiwis go to the polls.
The date corresponds with the return of writs for the election, when the final election results are officially returned to the Governor General.
Peters’ decision mirrors a similar pledge he made during the 2005 campaign, and is in part a result of the flak NZ First copped after protracted negotiations after the first MMP election in 1996.
Back then, Peters did not announce NZ First was going into coalition with National until December 10 - nearly two months after the October 12 ballot, and narrowly before Parliament had to resume.
Speaking to Newsroom, Peters said he did not believe the negotiations had taken too long given the change of electoral system, but accepted it was hard to overturn the public perception.
“Places like Holland and elsewhere, they would take three to four months, but in New Zealand there was a bit of intolerance which I daresay was led by the media demanding that there be an outcome when you were trying to negotiate between two different parties, both at the same time which is quite unique really.
“But you have to face the fact that when the media paint a perception, it’s very difficult in terms of the future to dislodge that, no matter how untrue it might be.”
'Learned the hard lessons of 1996'
In a 2005 speech to Grey Power in Whangarei, Peters said NZ First had “learned the hard lessons of 1996” and would not repeat the lengthy negotiations.
“I make this guarantee that whatever decision New Zealand First arrives at post-election, it will be made public by the day the writs are returned, which is within three weeks from polling day.”
While the final result in 2005 reduced NZ First’s leverage, Peters confirmed to Newsroom he would take the same approach to this year’s election.
“There’s no reason for it not to be similar thinking at this point - we are dealing with known quantities which we weren’t aware of in 1996...
“These things will take care of themselves in the fullness of time in the next eight weeks, but seeing as you’re ahead of the eight-ball, I can tell you that looks exactly sort of the position we’ll be in.”
That means that if NZ First does hold the balance of power after election day, we should be spared a drawn out negotiation process - although with Winston, nothing can ever be taken for granted.