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NZ First leader Winston Peters says he's just thankful to have survived the election, lambasting the media and National and Labour for treating it as if it was a First Past the Post campaign rather than MMP.
National won the largest number of votes on Saturday night, but hasn't the numbers to govern outright.
National took 46% of the vote, the Electoral Commission said, while support for Labour was 35.8%. A final tally including overseas votes will be released on October 7.
The results set up the New Zealand First party to hold the balance of power and form the next government with 7.5% of the ballot.
Speaking from Russel in the Bay of Islands on Sunday, Mr Peters said he was yet to have any phone calls with National leader Bill English or Labour's Jacinda Ardern and hit out at media for asking.
"Let's stop the mirage and the facade here, we all know what has to happen. So all this talk about making phone calls will not be happening from NZ First's point of view."
He said he would deal with it "responsibly" and would take to his colleagues and board "and then let you know what I'm going to do."
He told journalists it was an MMP environment and the 'two old parties' did not have the answers to the future.
"You spent all the time sucking up to the two old parties and this afternoon trying to make a decision and tomorrow trying to make a decision but they won't have the cards that matter."
There's no guarantee Mr Peters will side with his former party in coalition negotiations, according to people close to him.
Newstalk ZB's political editor Barry Soper says he's spoken to people close to Mr Peters this morning, and the sense is nobody should take it for granted that National will lead the next government.
If Mr Peters was to go with Labour, the coalition would also require the support of the Greens.
The veteran MP, who lost in his Northland seat to a National candidate last night, has been minister under National and Labour. He has not said which major party he would favour as a coalition partner. Previously, he has backed the one with the largest number of votes.
Asked if he had expectations, he replied: "Yes, I have" but would not say what they were.
Mr Peters criticised the media, saying there had been no fun on the campaign and the media had treated it like a First Past the Post election, focusing on Labour and National so heavily.
Asked whether he was having fun now: "Yes, I am actually."
Both National and Labour were expected to maintain a policy of fiscal prudence if they form the next government, though they differ on monetary policy, trade and immigration. That would likely have implications for the New Zealand dollar, the world's 11th most-traded currency. The currency had tended to rise when National rose in the pre-election polls.
Mr Peters told reporters he had not yet received any calls from National or Labour, nor had he contacted them himself, but he had begun talking with members of New Zealand First to discuss the party's options.
STRONG SHOWING FROM NATIONAL
National won the largest number of votes on Saturday, securing a comfortable margin over the Labour Party after what had promised to be the most hotly contested race in recent history.
National and Labour had been almost neck and neck in opinion polls, with charismatic 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern almost single-handedly dragging Labour back into the race after taking over the party's leadership in August.
All party leaders said they would have conversations over the next few days, with some of them already trying to woo Mr Peters on election night.
"I want to acknowledge the strong performance of Winston Peters and New Zealand First," Bill English said in a speech to his supporters.
"The voters of New Zealand have given New Zealand First a role in forming the next government," he said.
For Mr English, who campaigned heavily on National's economic credentials after taking the party leadership last year, the strong showing was a vindication after National crashed to its worst ever election result in 2002 under his first stint as leader.
Opinion polls leading up to the vote had been volatile with two recent ones giving National a near 10 point lead over Labour. National has been in power for nearly a decade.
"Bill English and National have taken the largest number of votes. I've called Bill and acknowledged that," Ms Ardern told her supporters, adding she was planning conversations with both the Green and New Zealand First parties. "It's not over yet."
Mr Peters sounded buoyant but kept his cards close to his chest.
"We have been strong enough and honest enough with our supporters to make it home," he said.
New Zealand First had "not all the cards but we do have the main cards," he added, saying he would not be rushed into giving any answers immediately.
SPECIAL VOTES TO COME
Ms Ardern and Mr English were expected to maintain fiscal prudence, but to differ on monetary policy, trade and immigration.
That would likely have implications for the New Zealand dollar, the world's 11th most-traded currency in 2016. The New Zealand dollar has tended to rise when National rose in the polls.
"The thin trading conditions typical of early morning in Asia mean a sharp but short-lived move on the NZD is possible on Monday," said Joseph Carpuso, senior currency strategist at CBA.
New Zealand uses a German-style proportional representation system in which a party, or combination of parties, needs 61 of Parliament's 120 members - usually about 48% of the vote - to form a government.
The results secured 58 seats for National in parliament, and 45 for Labour. New Zealand First has nine seats and Greens, which won 5.8% of the votes, have seven.
National's 58 seats were higher than Labour and Greens put together at 52, but neither combination had enough to govern on their own.
"It's all over, bar the special votes - but even they won’t change the basic maths. They won't change any crucial seats and National is extremely unlikely to go up. So Winston Peters rules," said Bryce Edwards, analyst at Wellington-based Critical Politics.
A record 1.2 million ballots were cast before the day of the election, accounting for about a third of the 3.3 million New Zealanders enrolled to vote.
"Special votes", which include ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will be released on October7.
These are estimated to represent 15% of total votes and could have a considerable impact.
"I would expect us to get a bit of a lift out of those special votes," Ms Ardern said.
- NZ Herald and Reuters