New Zealand coalition talks intensify as final tally confirms political deadlock
Neither party has was able to secure the 61 seats needed to govern even after ‘special’ ballots were added to the September 23 election count
New Zealand’s two main parties prepared on Saturday to intensify negotiations with kingmaker MP Winston Peters after the counting of postal and overseas votes from last month’s general election failed to break a two-week political deadlock.
With the votes added to the September 23 election tally, the opposition bloc led by the Labour Party’s Jacinda Ardern had closed within two seats of Prime Minister Bill English’s National Party.
But neither side could muster the 61 seats needed to govern, leaving Peters with his populist New Zealand First Party – which holds nine seats – holding the balance of power.
The conservative National Party finished with 56 seats, down from the 58 it held on election night while the centre-left Labour Party and the Green Party picked up a seat each to give them 46 and eight.
Despite the drop in seats, English said the final result “signalled very clearly” voters wanted National to remain in power for a fourth term.
Ardern, meanwhile, highlighted that most electors had voted for change.
New Zealand’s proportional representation electoral system means the major parties often have to rely on the support of smaller factions.
Peters has previously supported both of the main parties to form a government – siding with National in 1996 and Labour in 2005.
He has opened preliminary coalition talks with both parties in recent days and given himself a deadline of next Thursday to make a decision.
Although neither English nor Jacinda Ardern have revealed what they are prepared to concede in talks with Peters, English said he was “determined” to lead the next government.
“Now that the special votes have been counted it’s time for political parties to get on with the job of forming a strong government to take New Zealand forward, and I look forward to engaging with Mr Peters and New Zealand First over the coming days to achieve that,” he said.
“Voters had a clear choice at the election between the two major parties that had a realistic prospect of leading the next government. They signalled very clearly that they wanted National to perform that role.”
Although the final result has strengthened the opposition parties’ negotiating position, they will have to overcome historical differences between the Greens and Peters if they want to form a government.
Ardern said Labour would negotiate with the Greens and NZ First separately and not have all three around the table together.
She said the final result meant “we have a strengthened mandate to negotiate and form a durable, stable, coalition government”, and the separate talks would be “all about finding what’s going to work in the best interests of all parties”.
“The Labour team will negotiate with the Greens and the Labour team will negotiate with New Zealand First.”
Greens leader James Shaw said his party wanted to be at the heart of a three-way coalition and he had a “polite and cordial relationship” with Peters.