National’s night, but NZ First waits in the wings

National Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon and his wife, Amanda, arrive to...
National Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon and his wife, Amanda, arrive to speak to media in Auckland yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon travels to Wellington today to try to assemble a new government, knowing that a half million New Zealanders might already have hindered his plans.

Mr Luxon’s National Party handed out a crushing defeat to Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Labour on Saturday. Although not reaching the heights of Jacinda Ardern’s historic Labour majority government of three years ago, National routed Labour in the electorate seats, 45 to 17, and all but reversed its ill fortunes from 2020.

However, a big third party vote and its own strong electorate performance has probably deprived National of the list MPs it needed to form a government with just itself and fellow right-wing party Act New Zealand.

At present Act’s 11 MPs and National’s 50 would just have a majority in a 121 seat Parliament, but many variables remain to be decided by the 567,000 special votes (20.2% of all votes cast) which are still to be counted.

The official results, including those votes, will be declared on November 3.

Historically, the Greens have gained MPs from specials and National has lost them. Also, seven electorates are held on election night by majorities of less than 500 and could go either way.

Waiting in the wings and watching with keen interest is New Zealand First which, as anticipated, returned to Parliament on Saturday, its 6.46% of the vote netting it eight MPs.

Mr Luxon may well need to cut a deal with NZ First to govern, but its evergreen leader, Winston Peters, was giving little away yesterday.

"My job is to consult with my colleagues — we haven't had a chance to talk to each other," he said.

"When we've decided what we're going to do, and what we're doing it with, we'll all let you know."

On election night, Mr Peters had told supporters that "if we can help, going forward, we will", comments which Mr Luxon — who has yet to speak to Mr Peters post-election — greeted with cautious enthusiasm.

"I really appreciated Winston Peters' remarks ... I am sure in due course we will be in contact."

Mr Luxon and senior National strategists met in Auckland yesterday, and he sought to assuage any jitters New Zealanders, and particularly the financial markets, might have about the government formation process.

"We will sort it out. We will get a strong, stable government. The country voted for change and we have a mandate to form that government with the parties of change."

Mr Luxon said he had spoken to Act leader David Seymour twice during the weekend and would work with him in a constructive way.

A dejected Prime Minister and Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaks to media on election night.
A dejected Prime Minister and Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaks to media on election night.
Soon to be former prime minister Chris Hipkins, having led Labour to a chastening defeat on Saturday, stayed out of the limelight yesterday.

In a gracious concession speech, Mr Hipkins acknowledged Labour had been well beaten, and thanked supporters for their efforts during the campaign.

"While it's MMP and the numbers are likely to move around a little bit before the final count, as it stands, Labour is not in a position to form another government.

"The result tonight is not one that any of us wanted. But I want you to be proud of what we achieved over the last six years, because despite governing through some of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced, we kept New Zealand moving forward and we protected those who needed help the most."

It was a night when Labour made history for all the wrong reasons. It lost Wellington Central, which it formerly held by 18,878, to Green candidate Tamatha Paul, by 3342 votes; for the first time it lost Mt Roskill, former Cabinet minister Michael Wood’s seat.

It is poised to lose Te Atatū, which it has only surrendered once since 1978; it may still lose Mt Albert, once the seat of Prime Ministers Helen Clark and Jacinda Ardern.

While National hoovered up many of those lost seats, the Greens and Te Pati Maori were also beneficiaries of Labour’s misfortune.

The Greens, who returned 14 MPs, added Auckland Central and, surprisingly, Rongotai, to its win in Wellington Central.

Te Pati Maori won four of the Maori seats and will harbour hopes of picking up one or two more on special votes — an outcome which, if it came to pass, would also increase the likelihood of Mr Luxon needing to call Mr Peters.

In the South, the election contained few surprises, the general seats south of the Waitaki remaining in the column of the parties which won them in 2020.

However, National might be left wondering what might have been in Taieri, its candidate Matthew French slashing Ingrid Leary’s majority from 12,398 to just 1308.

In the South’s Maori electorate, Te Tai Tonga, Te Pati Maori candidate Takuta Ferris sprung a major surprise, defeating 12-year incumbent Labour MP Rino Tirikatene.

Three new list MPs were elected from the South: Mark Patterson (NZ First), Scott Willis (Green) and Todd Stephenson (Act)., Political editor