The final results are in, and we’re going down to the wire, Sam Sachdeva comments.
A two-seat swing from the right to the left with the counting of special votes, while not unexpected, has breathed new life into Labour’s hopes of winning the hand of Winston Peters and NZ First.
With Labour and the Greens picking up a seat each at National’s expense, the left-wing bloc now has 54 seats to National’s 56, with both still reliant on NZ First.
Technically, there has been no substantive change from the preliminary results: then, as now, both National and a Labour-Green combination could team up with NZ First to form a government.
However, the extra seats have turned a deal with Labour and the Greens from feasible to viable: rather than relying on a razor-thin 61 seats out of 120, vulnerable to deaths or defections, a Labour-Green-NZ First alliance would hold 63 seats, roughly equivalent to a National-NZ First pairing’s 65.
Of course, there’s still the fact that National finished ahead of Labour in the so-called “drag race”, with 56 seats to 46.
We’ve never had an MMP government formed without the largest party in Parliament, and while there’s a first time for everything, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern seems aware of the need to address concerns about legitimacy.
Speaking to media after the results were confirmed, she offered a counter-argument to Prime Minister Bill English’s claims of a “moral authority”, claiming her own mandate for change and a majority against the status quo.
Whether that framing is accepted by the public could play a role in whether Peters feels comfortable going with the left.
Ardern was even confident enough to predict she would be Prime Minister once negotiations concluded.
A stronger left-wing bloc also strengthens Peters’ hand during negotiations with National.
With a viable alternative to Team English on the table, the NZ First leader will be able to turn the screws during negotiations and demand maximum concessions on policy and portfolios.
That’s in part why English was keen to sew up a deal with NZ First as quickly as possible, knowing the final count was unlikely to help him in any way.
Peters can feel vindicated in holding off, with an evening up of the two sides likely to influence public opinion about the validity of a deal with Labour.
Now the clock starts ticking, with Ardern suggesting negotiations will begin “in earnest” this weekend.
Peters has repeatedly confirmed he intends to stick to his self-imposed October 12 deadline - first reported by Newsroom back in July - which leaves just five days to hammer out a deal.
If we are to get a new government by then, expect some long days and sleepless nights on all sides.
As to which colour it will be, the only person with any real idea at the moment is Peters himself.