Politicians trying to hammer out a coalition deal to form the next government will get down to tough talking on policy differences next week. Initial meetings over the past few days have concentrated on procedures for what are expected to be a series of protracted secret negotiations. The nationalist New Zealand First Party, which holds the balance of power in Parliament following the October 12 general election, is holding separate talks with the National and Labour parties. It is out to get the best deal for its 17 MPs and the Deputy Prime Minister's job for its leader Winston Peters, who says the aim is to sign a contract that will ensure a coalition government can rule for the next three years. If the talks fail and NZ First cannot wring enough concessions out of either party, either the Nationals' leader Jim Bolger or Labour's Helen Clark will have to try to form a minority government. If they do not succeed, another election early next year will be on the cards. With final counting of absentee votes concluded today, there appeared little likelihood of any change to the election night result of: National 44 seats, Labour 37, NZ First 17, NZ Alliance 13, ACT NZ 8, United NZ 1. After one of the closest races, Labour Maori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, conceded she had lost the seat she held for 29 years to NZ First's Tu Wyllie. It completed a clean sweep of all five seats reserved for Maoris, previously dominated by the Labour Party, to NZ First. Ms Tirikatene-Sullivan said Labour lost the Maori seats on a tidal wave of support for Mr Peters, who is half-Maori. 'Maoris were wanting to see the first Maori Prime Minister and Winston was the closest we have had in this generation,' she said. 'Maoris see Winston Peters as a fighter and therefore a warrior.' This week's talks set a timetable for future negotiations which could go on for four to six weeks. NZ First has scheduled two or three meetings a day with both the other parties. Jim Anderton, leader of the Alliance, which has refused to join any coalition government, attacked the secrecy surrounding the negotiations, dubbing it 'an outrage to democracy'.