Election Live: Ardern, English hold off calling Peters

Last night's election ended with Winston Peters in "kingmaker" position. Photo montage by Lynn Grieveson

National leader Bill English continues to exude maximum flexibility ahead of potential coalition negotiations with the "small unit" of New Zealand First - even to the extent of remaining open to a confidence and supply arrangement, a form of de-facto rather than full-scale marriage.

Incumbent Prime Minister Bill English says a two-party governing arrangement between National and New Zealand First, rather than Labour's alternative three-party affair with the Greens and NZF, would be less complex and better answer voters' wishes.

At a Sunday afternoon press conference English also down-played the impact of the 380,000 special votes yet to be counted (15 percent of the total) saying flatly: "It is possible a couple of seats might change hands but it is not going to alter the current balance.

"I don't think [the specials] would make that much difference. A National-New Zealand First arrangement would have a six to seven seat majority, which is, by definition, more stable."

He said National was open to exploring all possible arrangements with New Zealand First. "We are open to arrangements that are going to enable strong and stable government." There were many ways of doing it and "most models have been tried through New Zealand's experience of MMP. There are plenty of example to draw on".

If Peters and New Zealand First chose not to sign a formal coalition deal but sit on the cross-benches guaranteeing the government support on parliamentary votes of confidence and supply, it could represent more policy influence for the smaller party as it has to be consulted initiative by initiative.

On election night, English talked of two distinct governing possibilities - "a stable majority government" and a "stable operating government".

He had spoken to Act leader David Seymour who understood "how the numbers stack up" and "we have to work with what the voters give us. The shortest path is a New Zealand First arrangement".

Earlier, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told reporters outside her brick-and-tile house in Pt Chevalier that she would give Winston Peters and other parties time to digest the election result, and to wait for special votes to be counted. Bill English said the counting of the special votes was unlikely to change the balance much and he expected to call Peters in the next few days.

Ardern acknowledged that substantive negotiations were unlikely to be held until after October 7, when the final special votes count would be known.

Prosser pitches NZ First to the left

Outgoing NZ First MP Richard Prosser has taken another opportunity to speak his mind on his own time. In an interview with the NZ Herald this morning, he said Winston Peters would form a coalition government with Labour, if at all possible.

But during his speech to the party faithful last night in Russell, Peters had asked his own people to stay quiet.

Prosser also took another swipe at Peters with his warning to potential coalition partners that they'd need to contend with the 72-year-old's alleged "erratic" behaviour.

On the eve of the election, Prosser emailed Newsroom with a similar claim against Peters.

Kingmaker Peters in fine jousting form

If there was any doubt that Winston Peters knows the value of the position New Zealand First holds, it was dispelled during a lively and thoroughly entertaining press conference outside the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva reports from Russell.

With NZ First holding what Peters has called “the balance of political responsibility”, the wily veteran strode out to face the media, where he insisted there was still some time before the shape of the next government would become clear.

“Nobody quite knows what the result last night means. We’ve got to wait some time for the special votes. I think there are about 315,000 still to go, so things will change marginally," he said.

The Electoral Commission announced late last night there were special votes totalling 384,072 or 15 percent of total votes still to be counted over the next 14 days. It said it would announce the full and final result after the counting of special votes at 2pm on October 7. The number of special votes was up from 293,130 or 12.2 percent of total votes on election night in 2014. National lost one seat and the Greens gained one seat after the counting of special votes in 2014. Many of the special votes will be from people who enrolled and voted at the same time in the days before election day.

“In the meantime we’ve just got to wait and see what that means and talk to my colleagues over the next few days and then we’ll tell you what we're prepared to do,” Peters said.

Peters said he had not received any calls from the other leaders yet, and would be talking to his colleagues within the party before making any moves of his own.

Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t in the mood to give away any of his bottom lines during negotiations.

“Say you were in our situation, why would you say that now? Negotiating is about getting all you possibly can get for the people that voted for you, and that means you've got to be smart and clever and determined and resolute, and the last thing you’d do is start playing your cards before you get to the table.”

Asked whether the racing industry needed him back, Peters replied: "Well yeah, and the elderly people, and the economy, and a whole lot of other things, and the foreign ministry needs me back because they’ve been lousily treated in recent times."

As for his loss to National’s Matt King in Northland, Peters said he accepted the decision of the voters but believed it was “a terrible shame”.

What was behind their decision? “Seventy-eight years of habitual behaviour - it’s like the Frank Sinatra song, remember he said: I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me, and they think they’re up but they’re not.”

As for John Key’s thoughts that Peters would opt for National: “I think John should keep on playing golf with Obama, and selling out the country at the same time.”

Then Peters resorted to his old habit of having a dig at the media, telling Newshub’s Lloyd Burr: “How long are you going to be standing around asking me silly questions before I pick you up - and throw you in that water over there?”

Peters is heading off to his home in Whananaki to field calls and plot his next moves - and perhaps take to the water.

Asked when he’d last been out on his boat, Peters quipped, “About three hours from now.”

"It’s a freedom exercise, you're away from the strains and stresses from somewhere like now, and nobody can get to you."

See Newsroom's Live file from last night's election results, which left National just short of being able to govern with its regular partners, the Māori Party, ACT and United Future, largely because the Māori Party failed to make it back into Parliament.

Joyce says National in strong position to talk to Winston

Earlier this morning a husky-voiced Steven Joyce told TVNZ's Corin Dann on Q+A that National believed it was in the strongest position to negotiate the formation of a new government with Winston Peters.

"Nobody has a greater right, but I think everybody will look at the fact that nearly one in two New Zealanders chose the direction that we’re heading and said this is the sort of government they want," Joyce said.

"I think obviously people would take note of that. Others would argue that we’re nearly one in two to the other way, but I think it gives us a strong position to have those conversations," he said.

National's campaign manager said National leader and Prime Minister Bill English would start discussions with New Zealand First later today.

"There’s a number of our people that have relationships with not just Winston but his team. And so let’s just see how that plays out. The Prime Minister will start on that today," Joyce said.

"It is my understanding that the two teams will be talking today, and I’m sure the prime minister will talk to Winston Peters at some point too."

Joyce would not be drawn on what National might offer and what it would rule out, other than to say he did not want to spook anyone in financial markets with comments about changes to monetary policy.

Twyford also hopeful of a deal

Labour Campaign Manager Phil Twyford also told TVNZ's Jessica Mutch on Q+A that Labour was firmly in the hunt to form a three-way Government with the Greens and New Zealand First. He said there was no constitutional reason why Labour could not form a Government with those two parties, even though it had a smaller share of the vote than National.

"I noted that during the campaign, in one of the debates, Bill English made a comment about the incumbent government and a government with the largest number of votes," Twyford said.

"There’s no rule, and I don’t think it’s even as formal as a convention. It’s kind of a habit and a hangover from First Past the Post," he said.

"It’s very clear under MMP – it’s simply the leader who can command a majority. And now the people have spoken, we’re going to start working out who can put together a progressive and stable government.

"National have lost their governing majority. Actually, more New Zealanders voted for change yesterday. New Zealand First campaigned on the slogan of ‘Have you had enough?’ That’s a pretty clear indication that they want change. Now, a majority of New Zealanders voted for change. And I think that the choice before the country now is what sort of government do we want? Do we want drift or do we want action? Do we want the past or do we want the future?

"We’ve worked with Winston for a long time. I’m confident that Labour’s in a position to form a government with the Greens and New Zealand First. We’re absolutely back in the game."

Shaw “not ruling anything out”

Looking weary but relieved, Green Party leader James Shaw told media all options are on the table in any negotiations.

That included the possibility of the Greens taking a backseat in any Labour/NZ First-led government, alongside talking to National about a potential coalition.

Those two options were, however, highly unlikely, Shaw said.

“I’ve always said my goal was to change the Government and to form a new coalition government with the Labour party afterwards. That’s what I’m working on and I think that possibility remains very real today and will become more so as the special votes are counted.

“In my view that’s more likely in a full coalition where we work together as colleagues on a common programme for government rather than a minority government that has to go to the cross benches to get every vote passed.”

He had yet to speak to Winston Peters but would be making contact in the next few days and eventually expected to sit down with both Peters and Jacinda Ardern for serious discussions.

Shaw would be talking to Ardern this afternoon and would also contact all caucus members and Green candidates including Metiria Turei, who would be “top of the list”.

Regarding National, he said he would not be calling the party, but had an obligation to listen if they contacted him.

“It’s my responsibility to do so and we’ll have to see what they’ve got to say but one of the things I’ll be saying in return is you know we campaigned on a change of Government and you know what was in our manifesto and you know how incongruous that is with National’s economic manifesto.”

Newshub beats TVNZ in the other battle

The first TV ratings for election night programmes are in and Three has beaten TVNZ1 in the battle for the coveted 25- to 54-year-old audience, Mark Jennings reports.

Three’s share for the night was 37.7 percent compared to TVNZ’s 29.4 percent.

Three won every quarter hour of the 5-hour broadcasts except the first quarter hour. It is normal for viewers to sample both channels before settling on one network for the rest of the evening.

The average number of people in this demographic watching Three was up 27 percent on its 2014 election night programme.

TVNZ1 was down 13 percent.

Across both networks the average audience in the 25 to 54 age group was 320,095 compared to 303,111 in the 2014 election.

Less people watched the two networks than at the last election but those that did stayed watching for longer.

TVNZ was the winner in the 5+ audience segment (everyone over the age of five) This segment traditionally favours TVNZ1 as it is always strong in the people aged over 65.

(Updated at 4.40 pm)