The opening salvos have been fired in the battle to form the next government, with NZ First holding preliminary talks with both National and Labour to set out the shape of future discussions.
With Winston Peters still waiting on the outcome of special votes this Saturday, Thursday’s meetings with National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern were focused on procedure rather than policies.
However, as media laid down on the floor of Parliament House to watch who was heading into talks, the parties tipped their hand for the first time on the composition of their negotiating teams.
For National, English was joined by MPs Gerry Brownlee, Todd McClay and Steven Joyce - rumours of Peters wanting “utu” against the Finance Minister clearly not a deterrent - along with English’s departing chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.
For Labour, Ardern teamed up with deputy leader Kelvin Davis, finance spokesman Grant Robertson, chief of staff Neale Jones, and former deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen, strategic adviser Mike Munro - the latter two both linked to Peters’ time in the Helen Clark-led Labour government.
Peters himself was flanked by MPs Ron Mark and Tracey Martin, chief of staff David Broome, and confidante Paul Carrad.
However, the NZ First leader has suggested that the composition of the negotiating teams could change depend on the area of discussion, with experts in different policy areas tagging in.
Discussions with both National and Labour were short and sweet, lasting about 30 minutes each.
English did not talk to media, while Ardern said only that Labour’s talks were “positive” and “a great start”.
Peters told media the talks did not delve into policy, but outlined the structure and etiquette for future discussions, such as the location of talks and keeping them “fair, confidential and above board”.
"Otherwise we might as well hire Westpac Stadium and turn on the lights and loud speaker and just go for it. We're not going to have that circus," Peters said.
He told media he did not know when the next conversations would take place, suggesting there was no guarantee the outcome of special votes would be known by Saturday afternoon (although the Electoral Commission has indicated it is on track to meet its 2pm deadline).
With pressure coming on Peters to go one way or the other, the NZ First leader said he was “between the devil and the deep blue sea” in terms of public opinion.
"We just can't win. You can't win with the public, you can't win with the media, you can't win with the commentariat and you can't win with the people who believe it's all about First Past the Post even though it's an MMP environment, and they just bang on day in and day out."