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Seats confirmed, race to reach a deal by Thursday is under way

Opinion Piece

After Saturday’s final election count, which panned out as expected with a major boost for the left’s chances of forming the government, there is now real pressure on the negotiating teams to reach a deal by Winston Peters’ self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

The final count left National two seats down on 56, Labour up one to 46, the Green Party up one to eight and New Zealand First staying on nine.

The shift has strengthened Peters’ hand as well as that of the Labour-Greens bloc, as he now has more justification to do a deal with them. But in reality, he still has the power to decide the government and the two major parties have to court him.

It is a two-edged sword — whichever he chooses, he is going to annoy some of his core constituents.

One interesting area of speculation is that Peters could decide not to join either of the two big parties, and sit on the cross benches. Some believe this would give him even more power. He could veto most legislation he did not like, whereas in a coalition he would be bound by whatever agreements were reached in negotiations.

The final count has confirmed again that MMP is not a happy place for minor parties. Two more disappeared this time and in fact since 1996 no new parties, apart from spin-offs, have made it into Parliament.

That situation will increase calls for the 5 percent threshold to be reduced if Parliament is to become truly diverse. A greater spread of minor parties could also possibly prevent the present kingmaker situation.

The flip-side of this is that negotiations could take a lot longer than two-and-a-half weeks. In Holland there is no government almost 200 days since their election.

With the negotiations being held behind closed doors, the media and public are left like bystanders in a Papal election, waiting for a smoke signal.

As negotiations ramp up, scheduled to go into tonight, the feeling grows that the country wants to see some resolution and a decision, thanks.