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Labour could have edge in NZ First calculations . . .

Opinion Piece

After three weeks of waiting, the country could find out later today the shape of the next government.

With the negotiations being held behind closed doors — and all participants apart from Winston Peters remaining tight-lipped, which is understandable, despite the clamour for information — the speculation has been rife over which way Peters, his caucus and the shadowy board with their choice of nine options will jump.

It has been a case of watching the body language of the party leaders for any signs; Jacinda Ardern has been smiling more than Bill English, is that a clue?

The political pundits have been reluctant to guess, especially when they could be shown to be wrong within hours. But what once looked an almost sure thing for National may have swung the other way.

Peters has been visibly agitated in the past few days, and it is probably not just his inherent mistrust of the media that is to blame. He is a politician who has been astute in reading the mood of the country and has always based his positions around that.

He will know then that his position as kingmaker with just 7.2 percent of the vote, and the delay and uncertainty since September’s election, has made him and the MMP system increasingly unpopular with a section of the public.

The final decision, which will come in days if not today, has greater bearing for his party in many ways than for National or Labour. Choosing which party to go into coalition with will probably determine the whole future of New Zealand First, indeed its survival.

Junior coalition partners have a bad habit of sinking out of sight and even disappearing completely. For that reason Peters may be tempted to go with Labour, where he could have more traction.

That means the chances of Ardern, 37, becoming the country’s third woman Prime Minister and its second youngest ever (after Edward Stafford, who became premier in 1856 also aged 37), are good.

In racing terms, Labour is the dark horse as the race, finally, enters the home straight.