New Zealand's indigenous Maoris - about 13 per cent of the population - could hold the key to the shape of the next government. Winston Peters, half-Maori leader of the New Zealand First party, which has the balance of power following Saturday's election, has five other Maoris among his 17 MPs. It became increasingly clear yesterday that their views will be critical in the decision whether to join a coalition with the conservative National Party or the main opposition Labour Party. At his first press conference since the election, Mr Peters made it clear he would not back down on his drive to cut immigration 'to the bone'. Asked if he had a message of assurance for the country's 185,000 Asians, who see the immigration policy as directed at them, he said: 'I would ask them to examine the immigration policies of Asia. If they know of a more liberal one than New Zealand First's, then let us know what it is.' He reiterated a claim he made during the election campaign that most Asian countries had much more restrictive policies than the 10,000-a-year immigrant ceiling he is proposing for New Zealand. Mr Peters outlined seven options for his party, ranging from a formal coalition with the National Party or Labour to sitting back and letting others try to form a government. A deal with Labour or the National Party - which has ruled for the past six years - will depend on which accepts most New Zealand First policies and offers the most attractive Cabinet posts. The Maori population is the party's most solid support base. New Zealand First made a clean sweep of the five seats reserved for Maoris in the poll, ending Labour's traditional dominance. But most Maoris are still thought likely to prefer a coalition with Labour than with the National Party. In London, Labour Party leader Helen Clark said a coalition government between Labour and New Zealand First was likely as long as New Zealand First maintained its social policies.