New Zealand kingmaker Peters set for talks on power deal

New Zealand “kingmaker” Winston Peters (R) holds the key to deciding whether Bill English (L) or Jacinda Ardern (C) gets to form a government

New Zealand’s maverick “kingmaker” Winston Peters arrived in Wellington Tuesday for talks that will eventually determine the outcome of the country’s deadlocked general election.

Peters is poised to anoint the winner of the September 23 poll later this month after conservative Prime Minister Bill English and opposition leader Jacinda Ardern both failed to secure an outright majority.

Under the country’s preferential voting system, that leaves Peters’ New Zealand First (NZF) party in a position to form a coalition with either side to get them over the line.

Ardern, who entered the campaign on a wave of “Jacinda-mania” hype but faded as English attacked her economic credentials, said Peters had a big decision to make.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Winston here, but it’s not Winston’s fault that he’s currently in this situation,” the leader of the centre-left Labour Party told TV3.

As it stands, English’s National has 58 seats, three short of the 61 needed to win, while Labour (45) and the Greens (7) have 52 combined.

That makes NZF’s nine seats decisive and Peters, a populist anti-immigration campaigner, has shown in the past he could go either way if the right offer is made.

He supported National in 1996 in return for being made deputy prime minister and Labour in 2005 when it agreed to make him foreign minister.

The 72-year-old has been clear he will not be rushed and was tight-lipped about his intentions after arriving at Wellington Airport, refusing to answer questions from reporters.

Both English and Ardern say they have had telephone conversations with Peters in recent days and expect “preliminary” face-to-face talks later this week.

But Ardern said discussions would not begin in earnest until Saturday, when the results of “special” votes — postal and overseas ballots — are declared.

They are expected to give Labour and the Greens another one or two seats, which Ardern said would give a Labour-Green-NZF coalition an extra buffer if it formed government.

Peters hopes to declare his decision by October 12, when the final election results are officially announced, but Ardern acknowledged it was a tight deadline.

“There’s nothing wrong with working towards that deadline but there’s no hard and fast rule why they must be concluded by then,” she said.

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