WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The leader of the New Zealand First Party, which emerged as the kingmaker after an inconclusive weekend election, said on Wednesday no decisions would be made on coalition partners until after the final tally of votes is released on Oct. 7.
“Special votes”, which includes ballots from overseas voters and those who vote outside their home constituencies, 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.
He spoke after meeting with his caucus on Wednesday to prepare for talks with major parties on a possible coalition government.
Prime Minister Bill English’s National Party secured 58 seats, ahead of the 52 won by the Labour Party and the Green Party, which have a working agreement together, in Saturday’s election.
That has left both sides courting the unpredictable Peters to win over New Zealand First’s nine seats to reach the minimum 61 needed to form a government.
Jacinda Ardern, the popular new leader who boosted her party’s chances since taking over in August, has said she reached out to Peters’ team and was ready to talk when he was.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English, who also heads the ruling National Party, has also said he is ready to proceed with talks with Mr. Peters.
Peters, the veteran politician who is holding the balance of power for a third time after Saturday’s election, has served in both National and Labour governments in previous coalitions.
While his policies are thought to have more in common with those of Labour, both want to curb immigration and adjust the role of the central bank albeit in different ways, some say he could be swayed to go to National given it would be a more straightforward coalition which would only involve two parties.
Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry