September 23, 2017 / 10:19 AM / in a year

New Zealand election kingmaker in no rush to pick winner

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The kingmaker in New Zealand’s general election said on Sunday he has begun talks with members of his nationalist party about who to support in a coalition government, but declined to put a timeframe on a decision.

Mary English (4th L), wife of New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and their children watch on as Bill English (not pictured) speaks during an election night event in Auckland, New Zealand, September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Nigel Marple

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is in a position of power after Saturday’s vote, with the ruling National Party and the opposition Labour Party needing his party’s support to form a government under the nation’s proportional representation system.

The National Party, which has been in power for a decade, secured 46.1 percent of the vote with 98.6 percent of results counted by the Electoral Commission, while Labour had 35.8 percent. NZ First took 7.5 percent of the ballots. A final tally including overseas votes will be released on Oct. 7.

Both National and Labour were expected to maintain a policy of fiscal prudence if they form the next government, though they differ on monetary policy, trade and immigration. That would likely have implications for the New Zealand dollar, the world’s 11th most-traded currency. The currency had tended to rise when National rose in the pre-election polls.

Peters told reporters he had not yet received any calls from National or Labour, nor had he contacted them himself, but he had begun talking with members of New Zealand First to discuss the party’s options.

“I’m doing it one by one by phone,” he said, declining to specify the content of those “private” talks, in a boisterous press conference outside a golf club in the picturesque Bay of Islands.

Asked by a reporter about how long he expected a decision to take, Peters replied: “How long before I pick you up and throw you into the water over there?” He noted that in some countries forming a government after a close election has taken months.

Peters, an outspoken veteran maverick of New Zealand politics, has been a minister in governments with both major parties and has consistently said he would not rush into a decision if given the mandate to choose a winner.

Peters has previously backed the party with the largest number of votes, which would put National in the winner’s seat, although he was disparaging of Prime Minister Bill English’s leadership on Sunday.

National and Labour had been almost neck and neck in opinion polls, with 37-year old Jacinda Ardern almost single-handedly dragging Labour back into the race after taking over the party’s leadership in August.

For English, who campaigned heavily on National’s economic credentials after taking the party leadership last year, the strong showing was a vindication after the party had its worst ever election result in 2002 during his first stint as leader.

The results secured 58 seats for National in the parliament, and 45 for Labour. New Zealand First has nine seats and the Green Party, which won 5.8 percent of the votes, has seven.

Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Paul Simao

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