New Zealand election: Winston Peters 'kingmaker' in hung parliament as nation awaits result

New Zealand election: Winston Peters 'kingmaker' in hung parliament as nation awaits result

New Zealand election: Winston Peters 'kingmaker' in hung parliament as nation awaits result

Updated 24 September 2017, 15:25 AEST

The votes have been counted and New Zealanders have had their say, but the dust is far from settled as the nation eagerly awaits news on who will form government, Josh Bavas writes.

The votes have been counted and New Zealanders have had their say, but the dust is far from settled as the nation eagerly awaits news on who will form government.

Labour and National are in a wrestling match, over wildcard Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party which hold the balance of power.

The count left National on 46 per cent, Labour 35.8, Green 5.9 and New Zealand First on 7.5.

Mr Peters, 72, has been dubbed the "king or queenmaker" by New Zealand media, and for good reason.

He said he needed more time to decide on who he would back, adding it was the "most difficult" outcome since the introduction of the Mixed Member Proportional system in the mid-1990s.

"I do believe we have the balance of political responsibility and we're not going to be hasty with that — we're not going to rush out and make decisions and make all sorts of statements," Mr Peters said.

The former National MP and one-time Labour ally said his party proved critics wrong but would not indicate who he intended to back.

"Despite all the provocations of this election when I read that we were going to be doomed … the stigmatisation of New Zealand First went on but we survived," he said.

"This party is a realistic common sense party, we do not like extremism.

"We believe in laws and policies that support the mass majority of New Zealand and not just a small elite who may have got control of the political system."

Why do Kiwis support NZ First?

Associate Professor Grant Duncan from Massey University said nostalgia and economic nationalism played in favour of New Zealand First.

"It's because there's that nationalist and protectionist sentiment, but also I think Winston Peters' personality is an attraction to some people," he said.

"The New Zealand First supporters tend to be older, they tend to see immigration as a big issue so a lot of the anti-immigration sentiment is concentrated in New Zealand First supporters.

"You get that economic nationalism and protectionism-based on a nostalgia."

While Prime Minister Bill English has secured the popular vote for his party, it was Labour which saw the biggest improvement, under the leadership of the last-minute commander Jacinda Ardern.

Ms Ardern said she was pleased with the resurgence.

"I am a perfectionist, I hold myself to a very high bar and very high expectations," she said.

"Of course though, as the party leader I'll be reflecting on the outcome tonight as you'd expect any party leader to do.

"We've come a long way in seven weeks — I'm incredibly proud of our team and the work we've put in."

That increase in support for Labour might be one of the reasons the Green Party lost votes and also why the Maori Party met its demise — losing all seven seats to Labour and reaching an overall vote of just above 1 per cent.

Where does the left and right sit?

Dr Duncan said the Greens lost, in part, to Labour's new charismatic leader.

"It's got a lot to do with Jacinda but it's just not enough compared with the National vote," he said

He said there were a lot of moving parts in the overall vote.

"Labour must have stolen some support from National but on the other hand to some extent some people have switched from New Zealand First to National from fear of a Labour-led government."

"Last time there was a Conservative party which got just over 4 per cent — and they're gone as well.

"National was likely saved by the demise of the Conservative party."