National has fallen just short of being able to govern alone for a fourth consecutive term as the Maori Party looks set to lose its seats. That means Winston Peters is in the Kingmaker position with the ability to go with Labour and the Greens, especially if the counting of over 200,000 special votes improves their positions.
National is on 46.1 percent and 10.3 percentage points ahead of Labour with 99 percent of the vote counted, but the Māori, Party is over 1,000 votes behind in its Waiariki electorate and therefore out of Parliament. That would leave National on 58 seats, just short of the required 61 seats to form a Government and win a fourth term with ACT. National will therefore need New Zealand First's nine seats to govern. ACT said it would go into opposition.
New Zealand First is on 7.5 percent and the Green Party is on 5.8 percent, which was also in line with the indications for all the parties in opinion polls earlier this week. Labour on 45 seats, New Zealand First on nine and the Green Party on seven seats could govern if Peters agreed to change the Government. The results of over 200,000 special votes that have yet to be counted will be crucial.
Winston Peters said he held the main cards, but he would not make a decision until the votes had been counted. The final writs are declared on October 12, although the special votes will be counted a week before that.
'That's quite a good result, isn't it?'
National Leader Bill English said he would move quickly to form a stable Government, but he conceded that Peters would have the final say, Tim Murphy reported at 11.54 pm.
English celebrated National's 46 percent party vote as the basis to work on forming a fourth-term National-led government.
He said he would talk to Winston Peters on Sunday as the public had given his party the right to a role in government.
English would seek common ground for strong and stable government.
He said National's large share of votes and seats meant there was no rush, but equally it needed to get on with trying to form a government.
After thanking Paula Bennett, his campaign chief Steven Joyce and his family, English pledged to use a strong economy to deliver on National's 'challenging' solutions to the country's most pressing social problems. He wanted to improve people's lives 'one by one if we have to'.
English concluded: "That's quite a good result, isn't it?"
'We gave it our all'
Jacinda Ardern arrived to a rapturous reception at the Aotea Centre.
"The last seven weeks have been nothing but a privilege. I’ve come off the field knowing we gave it our all," she said.
“I have more hugs in this campaign than I have had in my life.
“I haven’t done as well for them (people in need) as I would have liked.
"But the final outcome of tonight’s election won’t be decided by us it will be decided by MMP. I simply can’t predict the decisions that other leaders will make."
'Disappointed, but hopeful Winston can work with Greens'
Ardern declared "it’s not over yet" as the party waited to see if it will be able to snatch a win away from National, Shane Cowlishaw reported at 11.20 pm.
It took quite an effort from Ardern’s security detail to clear a path for her through a throng of passionate supporters before addressing the room.
Speaking to media after her speech, Ardern said she was yet to talk to any party leaders aside from the Prime Minister.
“Certainly my expectation is to have a conservation with both of those parties, absolutely. Tonight though my call was to Bill English, certainly to acknowledge the outcome he’s achieved and to acknowledge him as a running mate as well. I thought it was the right thing to do," she said.
With special votes still to be counted she expected Labour would receive a lift, but tomorrow the calls would begin to first the Greens, then NZ First.
“That is a conversation for tomorrow when all the votes are in," Ardern said.
“Ultimately it’s to our benefit if we work together and I think there’s an expectation from New Zealanders that at least we should have that conversation and make that work but, again, there’s a little bit of water to go under the bridge yet, a few more votes to be counted, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
"But those conversations need to be had as quickly as we can."
She wouldn’t rule out Winston Peters working with the Greens.
Asked if she would ring Winston personally, she said: "Yes I will reach out."
Was she disappointed? "I certainly had higher expectations of myself. Certainly I am a little bit disappointed.”
'National will try to win over Winston'
National campaign manager Steven Joyce said Bill English would tell the party and the nation that he would start tomorrow on forming a government, Tim Murphy reported at 10.50 pm.
He said English would commend the party faithful on the 46 percent party vote as a stunningly good result.
Joyce said that result was certainly at the upper end of his hopes.
He thought the pre-election TVNZ and Newshub polls at 46 percent were slightly higher than National's polls, which were then about 44 percent
Joyce felt Winston Peters and New Zealand First would look to deal with the highest polling party, National.
He did not think NZ First and the Greens could get on.
'We have the main cards'
"I do believe we have the balance of political responsibility," Winston Peters told supporters, Sam Sachdeva reported from Russell at 10.30 pm.
"We don't have all the cards but we have the main cards," Peters said.
He said New Zealand should not expect any answers tonight on which way NZ First would go - or tomorrow for that matter.
Instead, Peters said he wanted to talk to the full New Zealand First board and caucus before making any decisions.
Winston Peters’ speech to the party faithful in Russell mixed defiance with disappointment in equal measures.
While NZ First is primed to hold the balance of power, its 7.5 per cent is clearly a comedown from the party’s high polling in the months leading up to the election.
Peters took the podium out of necessity as much as desire - the last ferry of the day was heading back to Paihia, taking a lot of NZ First supporters with it.
Thanking voters who had “stayed rock solid” for NZ First, he said: “We hoped we could have done better, and we'll do better than those polls are showing right now as we trend upwards.”
Peters attacked what he called a First Past the Post campaign in an MMP system, but said NZ First had survived regardless.
“We have been strong enough and honest enough with our supporters to make it home and to have not all the cards but we do have the main cards - we’re not going to squander that opportunity," he said.
He indicated the party would take its time over a coalition decision, but it would be made “well before” the return of the writs on October 12.
Perhaps with Richard Prosser’s recent outbursts on his mind, Peter also sent a stern warning to members of the party to stay in line during what could be sensitive negotiations.
“To all my colleagues out there watching tonight, please don’t circumvent or foreclose on the right of your party and your colleagues to collectively decide what we must do in the future. “Don’t make comments that will embarrass the party, don’t make comments that mean the party’s democratic processes aren’t followed.”
Key sees a coalition with NZ First
John Key told Newshub's Sam Hayes outside Sky City that the result was tremendous for National, Mark Jennings reported at 11.05 pm.
He said Jacinda Ardern "will look like a real hero for Labour.”
On the prospects for a coalition, he said: “In the end National is going to be looking to put together a government. It looks likely they will look to do that with Winston Peters."
He was asked if it was possible National could work with the Greens.
"I don’t think it is possible. I realistically don’t think that is likely on a wider Green party view."
English set to take centre stage
National leader Bill English is still at his hotel, the Pullman, and is not expected to leave for the Party HQ at Sky City until close to 11 pm, Tim Murphy reported at 10.40 pm.
When he arrives, his daughter Maria will sing on stage (not the anthem but a New Zealand classic) as he moves to the podium.
He and wife Mary will be flanked by Paula Bennett and the campaign chief Steven Joyce.
'The fight of our lives'
Mark Jennings reported at 10.40 pm that Green Leader James Shaw said he had a message for Peters: “We do have some things in common.”
“I am happy with tonight’s result and so should you because the three opposition parties command a majority of votes. New Zealanders have voted for change," Shaw said.
“This has been the fight of our lives we are still her still standing, nature still has a voice in Parliament," he said.
Kingmaker without a kingdom?
Is Winston Peters going to be the Kingmaker without a kingdom?
Tim Murphy reports at 9.50 pm that word at National HQ is the 'Jacinda effect' sucked away his Northland electorate 'soft vote' and Willow Jean Prime's rise for Labour saw National nose ahead a few weeks ago. Peters was round 50 votes behind National's Matt King with 42 percent of the vote count.
Will Peters start and end his career with High Court electoral petitions? He first entered Parliament after a court challenge in Hunua in 1978.
Labour close to conceding
Former Labour Leader David Cunliffe said his Party had come a long way under Ardern, but it was quite clear that NZ First was likely to have the ability to put a Government together with either National or Labour.
Cunliffe told Newsroom there was “quite a few” things he’d watched Jacinda Ardern do that he wished he had done first, Shane Cowlishaw reported at 9.40 pm.
Sporting his trademark red scarf, Cunliffe said he expected the gap between National and Labour to soften, particularly after the special votes were counted.
He believed Labour’s performance in the Maori seats was particularly impressive, saying the Maori Party’s long association with National appeared to have finally ended the party.
“Maori have absolutely gone for Labour, I haven’t seen the absolute latest (in Waiariki) but it looks like Te Ururoa Flavell is likely to lose his seat, which would be the end of the Maori Party in Parliament. They’re good MPs, but there’s a clear mandate for Labour’s fantastic Maori team.”
He said he would have done some things differently after watching Ardern, if he could have his time again.
“It’s not easy and she’s done a fantastic job, she has an ease and a naturalness and a brightness if that’s the right word and it comes across, she has a terrific brain and a good heart and she’ll continue to do well.”
Labour candidate for Ohariu Greg O'Connor said on television it looked like National would win a fourth consecutive term.
ACT's Seymour alone
ACT Leader David Seymour, who is set to win the Epsom electorate, said he was happy to be back in Parliament, but his prediction that he would bring 5 MP’s with him proved to be badly astray with only 0.5 percent of the vote, Mark Jennings reported at 9.30 pm.
He later said he would go into Opposition.
Richard Preeble at ACT HQ said National looks home for a fourth term, but losing the Maori party is a big problem. He recommended ACT MP David Seymour remain out of the Government and stay on the cross benches.
Gareth Morgan claimed his The Opportunities Party had awakened the youth vote. He laid down a challenge to the Green Party to work with National, which he said would win.
National way ahead, but without Maori
There is some puzzlement among National strategists at the way the count is being fed out by the Electoral Commission, Tim Murphy reported at 8.50 pm.
It appears the commission opted to drip feed its afternoon count, mixing it with early rural 'live' counts rather than deliver early votes in a substantial number (up to half the early votes at once had been anticipated).
Figures showing National ahead in party votes in the Maori seats was taken here to show the current counts were not realistic.
One official said of the Maori Party's electorate fights, where they trail Labour in all seven seats: "The Maoris are gone."
And that means even 58 seats - which might have given National plus two Maori plus one Act enough to govern - is not going to be enough for the blue team.
Labour supporters still hopeful
The mood at Labour’s party at the Aotea Centre in Auckland was buoyant on the back of some promising early electorate seat results.
Cheers from the growing crowd are peeling out when new results flash on the big screens, particularly in the Waiariki seat where Tamati Coffey is leading and in Auckland Central where Labour is ahead of incumbent Nikki Kaye.
A Labour party staffer said the party vote gap was perhaps slightly larger than hoped, but was confident it would narrow as some of the larger urban centres were counted.
“If National drop under 45, we’ve got a real shot at this,” he said.
Winston behind in Northland
Northland candidate for National Matt King has a slender early lead of 100 over Winston Peters with seven percent of the voted counted. The drew cheers at National HQ at Sky City, Tim Murphy reported at 8.20 pm.
One Northland farmer who voted for King said: 'That's my vote right there."
National ceded the seat to Peters with a poor by-election candidate and campaign when its previous MP Mike Sabin stood down for personal reasons in 2015.
Winston not counting on being kingmaker
Winston Peters isn’t getting carried away with early election results showing NZ First in a potential kingmaker position, Sam Sachdeva reports from Russell at 8.15 pm.
Speaking to Newsroom at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, Peters said he was not taking much heed of the election results flashing up on the projector screen.
“I haven’t looked at the darn thing because you can’t change a thing in this game once the campaign’s over, and everybody else takes guesses and starts speculating what it all means - but it doesn’t mean a thing until you know," Peters said.
As for holding the balance of power - “You mean the balance of political responsibility, don’t you?” - Peters was also keeping his cards close to his chest.
“I told my team and I told them for a year that this campaign is about what we do before the election, not what we do after it, and what we should do is hold our counsel until we’ve had a chance to talk, otherwise it’s just meaningless.”
With early results in Northland showing Peters behind to National’s Matt King, he seemed somewhat prepared to lose the seat.
“This seat has been held by the National Party for 78 years, apart from just two brief times, and I take nothing for granted and I’ll just wait and see what happens...
“It was always a seat which was going to be very difficult to hold if people didn't grasp how critical it was for real change up here, so I’m just going to wait and see what they say.”
Labour set to win Maori seats
Early results have Labour dominating all seven of the Maori seats, Shane Cowlishaw reports at 7.50 pm.
The most interesting is Waiariki, where Labour’s Tamati Coffey is leading Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.
With nine percent of the vote counted Coffey is on 1787, while Flavell has 1450.
If Flavell loses the seat it will be disastrous for the party, as he will be unlikely to get in on the party vote. It would also mean Marama Fox, also co-leader, would be relying on party candidate Howie Tamati to win his seat and the party to get over 1.2 percent of the party vote.
In some of the other Maori electorates, Labour’s Kelvin Davis has a comfortable lead in Te Tai Tokerau over Hone Harawira, while Labour’s Peeni Henare is clearly ahead in Tamaki Makaurau.
In Hauraki-Waikato Nanaia Mahuta has double the votes of her closest rival with 13 percent of the votes counted.
National poised for celebrations
They've got the streamers rolled and poised for victory at National's election HQ at Sky City in Auckland, Tim Murphy reports at 7.40 pm.
Campaign chief Steven Joyce has been in evidence, his head in his mobile phone as he ordered two Chardonnays at the cash bar.
The venue's big screens - both initially on Newshub and the each on TVNZ and Newshub went blank - blue for a fair while, missing a Joyce cross to TV3.
There was some humour here when former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley turned up on TV at the Russell election night venue of NZ First's Winston Peters. Asked what was behind the unlikely pairing - Shipley sacked Peters from the last National-NZ First government - one official smiled and said: "We reach out to all parties."
English family's Pullman holiday
National Leader Bill English was in a confident and relaxed mood when he appeared with his wife Mary English and their six children for a photo opportunity at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. English said he welcomed being able to wake up this morning and then go back to sleep again for the first time in weeks.
He said he planned to spend the day with his family before watching the results coming in through the evening and then travelling to National's Sky City event once the result was clear, Bernard Hickey reported.
Ardern on the fence
Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern spent the day at home with her partner Clarke Gayford in Auckland and was pictured pictured painting their fence earlier in the day, Mark Jennings reported at 7.20 pm.
Newshubs' Sam Hayes reports Ardern’s neighbours have taken her biscuits and she was wearing slippers, meanwhile Ardern's Facebook page says she had sausages for dinner.
Winston Peters at the Duke
NZ First leader Winston Peters has made a surprisingly early arrival at his party’s election event, ducking questions about his expectations for the night, Sam Sachdeva reported at 7.15 pm.
Peters wasn’t expected to show up at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell until well after 7pm, once he had a better idea of where the night was heading.
However, he turned up just after 6.30pm to greet his brother Wayne, and fielded questions from media in an impromptu press conference.
Peters dodged questions about how he expected to poll, although he said he was too experienced to have nerves.
He did confirm he didn’t make it out on his boat for a spot of fishing today; “a snag” meant he was unable to get on the water, attending to “domestic duties” instead.
It’s unclear whether he’ll hang around as the official results trickle in.
(Updated 12.05 am)