Election 2017: English delivers for National — but not over the line yet

"I won't be giving any answers tonight or tomorrow," says Winston Peters, who sits in the familiar position of kingmaker. Some 380,000 special votes are still to be counted.

Others: 4.3%. 61 seats needed to govern. Source: ElectionResults.org.nz. (2014: Nat 47.3%, Lab 27.5%, Green 11.1%, NZF 6.6%)

UPDATE 7am Sunday: With 100% of standard votes counted, National is in the box seat to form a government but NZ First still holds the key.

National has 46.0% of the vote, or 58 seats, Labour 35.8%, or 45 seats: New Zealand First on 7.5% or nine seats and the Green Party on 5.9% with seven seats while ACT has one MP by dint of leader David Seymour holding Epsom.

There are still 380,000 special votes to count. Typically, the centre-left gains on specials. In 2014 (with 329,000 specials), National lost one seat and the Greens gained one after the final count.

The Electoral Commission will finalise the vote count, including specials, on October 7.

The picture points to a finely balanced parliament, especially with the Maori Party gone from Parliament and United Future consigned to history.

If it falls short of a majority, the party with the largest share of the vote has no special rights under MMP (read NBR's primer on the rules of negotiation engagement here). If he is of a mind, NZ First leader Winston Peters, who sits in the familiar position of kingmaker, could form a government in coalition with Labour and the Greens. 

Mr Peters, wasn’t giving anything away when he spoke to media just after 10pm last night.

"As things stand I believe we do have the balance of political responsibility and we are not going to rush out and make decisions … In fact, I won't be giving any answers tonight or tomorrow until I’ve had a full chance to talk to the board of NZ First."

Incumbent Prime Minister Bill English came on stage at National’s headquarters with his arms raised aloft.

"The voters have spoken and we have the responsibility of working to build strong and stable government," he said.

Mr English says National demonstrated it “has the energy and the drive to take New Zealand forward."

However, clearly neither Labour nor National can form a government without a support partner.

Mr English says he will begin discussions with Mr Peters in the coming days about forming a coalition.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told media "We hoped for better" as she climbed into a van to travel to Aotea Centre, where her party's faithful had gathered.

Asked if she had talked to Mr Peters, she said, "There will be no conversations for a while yet."

NBR political editor Rob Hosking says the mood at National Party headquarters is "a bit like what All Black coaches say before a test – 'cautiously optimistic'." 

"While they don't quite think they've won, they certainly don't think they've lost."

Behind the scenes at National's election night party at Sky City in Auckland.

Ms Ardern says she called Bill English to acknowledge National took the majority of votes but she hasn't called Mr Peters yet.

She remained upbeat about Labour's campaign.

“The late great Colin Meads once said 'if you come off the field feeling you haven’t done enough, then you have let the team down' … I’ve come off the field knowing we gave it our all.

‘We did not get the most votes tonight and I have called Bill and acknowledged that and the work he has put in. The final outcome of tonight’s election won’t be decided by us – it will be decided by MMP.’’

‘’I simply cannot predict at this point what decisions other leaders will make but I can tell you what we will do and what it will carry with me and any conversations with me.

‘’We will keep listening and earning the trust and faith of New Zealand. As Labour leader I can assure you we will remain relentlessly positive.”

Her final line was ‘’let’s keep doing this’’

Asked if Labour should have done anything differently, frontbencher David Parker said, “When Jacinda took over, she said we would run the campaign of our lives and we have used every last drop of gas in the tank.”  

Behind the scenes at Labour's election night party in Auckland.

Greens hanging in there
At Green Party headquarters at St Matthews in Auckland City, there are about 300 people, NBR reporter Victoria Young says.

Campaign manager Sarah Helm addressed the crowd to lots of cheers as Chloe Swarbrick arrived. Leader James Shaw is expected to arrive at 10pm.

Apparently, the hummus dip has mostly gone.

Green MP Julie Anne Genter: "I'm glad we are above the threshold (to be in government), but disappointed National is doing well because we want to see a change in the government.”

She's confident that voters who advance-enrolled and voted at the same time, who will be counted as special votes, will favour Labour-Greens

Behind the scenes with the Greens at St Matthews in the City, Auckland.

Morgan tips National
Speaking to party faithful at the Meow bar in Wellington, Gareth Morgan says TOP has "awoken the young people." 

He reinforced the idea that the party was build upon a policy-first approach. 

"The biggest challenge we had was trying to change the tax system," he says.

He says he is trying to "appeal to [voters] humanity" when it comes to issues such as housing. 

In terms of convincing the rest of the country, he says there might be some work to do.

TOP gained just over 2.1% party vote.

Dr Morgan also effectively conceded to National, saying they're "probably going to win, let's be honest." 

He had previously said he does not know what the next step is for the party but says he has no regrets.

Asked what he would have done differently he says "nothing." 

Earlier
Polls have closed and counting has begun for Election 2017. 

The Electoral Commission's official timetable is:

  • by 8:30pm all advance vote results
  • by 10:00pm results from 50% of voting places
  • by 11:30pm results from 100% of voting places

Like all media, NBR will be drawing its results from the commission's results website, electionresults.org.nz, the official home of the overall total and electorate-by-electorate counts.

A quick early indication, then probably a multi-day wait
New Zealand could know as much as it's ever going to know tonight earlier than 8.30pm. Counting of this year's advance votes began at 9am.

Early voting was heavy with just under 1.2 million or 38% of registered voters casting a ballot by the end of Friday, compared with 717,000 in 2014.

The advance votes in 2014 were close to the final result.

However, if the provisional result this evening and horse-trading between parties is required as National and Labour vie for the affection of Winston Peters (a probable scenario, if polls are to be believed) it's likely NZ First, the Greens and others will want to wait until special votes are counted before they begin talks.

The counting of special votes will begin on Sunday.

The commission has up to 10 days to count specials, of which there were 329,000 in 2014, and to cross-check and confirm regular votes.

Historically, special votes have changed the provision result for each party by 0.5 to 1%, so they could well be crucial in a tight race.

The final result will be declared in 14 days' time.

What's needed to win
Allowing for wasted votes for parties that did not make the 5% threshold, National or Labour would need a minimum 47% of the vote to gain 61 MPs, the bare minimum to govern alone, UMR principal Stephen Mills said earlier.

In the event that the Greens or National crash below 5%, National could probably govern alone with just 46% of the vote.

History and poll averages suggest neither major party will get enough votes to govern alone.

Most votes? Means nothing if you're short of a majority
The final poll had the combined Labour-Greens vote at 44.4%, barely a point behind National (45.8%).

If the cards do fall like that tonight, then NZ First will be kingmaker.

That will mean negotiations between the parties as they jockey to assemble the support of 61 MPs (the bare-minimum needed for a majority).

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis points out that the party with the most votes does not get the first crack at forming a coalition.

No one does.

Parties can talk to each other in any order they like, or conduct talks with multiple partners at the same time.

And that it's quite possible under the rules of MMP for the party with the most votes (if it's short of a majority) to miss out on governing if a mix of other parties can get to the magic 61. 

Lastly, Mr Geddis points out that there is no time-limit on MMP talks. If Mr Peters wants to drag the negotiation process out for a couple of months, that's his prerogative. 

Enrolment numbers slightly down
The Electoral Commission's final enrolment figures, to September 19, show 91.48% of eligible adults enrolled vs 92.6% by Election Day 2014.

However, because advance voters could enrol and vote at the same time (pushing them into the special vote category) New Zealand won't know the final participation figure until special votes are counted.

The figures to September 19 showed young people enrolled in lower numbers than 2014. The figure for 18-24-year-olds was 68.74% compared to 76.5% in 2014 while 25-29-year-olds also lagged.

That could be a negative for Labour and the Greens, who draw disproportionately high support from the under-30s.

Any last-minute youth surge won't be apparent until after special votes are counted.

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