Two weeks after New Zealand's general election the outcome remained unclear today as the counting of postal and overseas votes failed to give any party a clear majority, leaving maverick MP Winston Peters as kingmaker.
Official results released after so-called special votes were added showed no single party had the 61 seats needed to govern in the 120-seat parliament.
The conservative National Party of Prime Minister Bill English finished with 56 seats, down from the 58 it held after the September 23 polling day count.
The centre-left Labour Party and the Green Party picked up a seat each to give them 46 and eight respectively for their combined opposition bloc to close within two of National.
It left the power to form a government in the hands of Peters and the nine seats held by his New Zealand First Party.
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 the charismatic Labour Party leader 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 need to overcome historical differences between the Greens and Peters.
Ardern said Labour would negotiate with the Greens and NZ First separately and not have all three around the table together.
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