Now the real fun begins: Official election results due Saturday

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 14:43 06/10/2017
Jo Moir/Stuff

Winston Peters speaks to media after meeting with Bill English

NZ First leader Winston Peters says luck won't play a part in coalition negotiations

HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES
Labour is hoping to pick up another seat thanks to the special votes. That would put them in a stronger position going into negotiations.
TOM LEE/STUFF
Winston Peters has set a deadline of October 12 for forming a coalition government but that's a very tight timeframe.
ROBERT STEVEN/STUFF
The official election results will be returned on Saturday but that doesn't mean we'll know who's in government.
DAVID WHITE/STUFF
Bill English and his team will be hoping they won't lose any seats but even if they do, they're still sitting in a good position when official negotiations kick off.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Green party leader James Shaw says the October 12 deadline should be flexible.

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The official election results are set to be released, but we're still no closer to knowing which parties will make up the next government.

New Zealand has been in limbo for the past two weeks while the special votes have been collected, counted and the official election results prepared. 

The Electoral Commission is due to release the official results at 2pm on Saturday, along with each party's final share of the vote.

So that should put an end to the uncertainty around who will form the next government, right?

READ MORE:
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Wrong! The "what would Winston do?" game is likely to continue for another five days.

WHEN WILL WE KNOW THE OFFICIAL RESULTS?

The official election results that are publicly released at 2pm on Saturday will include more than 384,000 special votes, which account for 15 per cent of the vote.

These are the votes everyone's been talking about. They are the ones that could change the share of the vote and see some parties lose seats in Parliament, while others could gain.

The Electoral Commission's official process for counting the votes is rigorous. It includes re-checking the preliminary results, as well as gathering all the specials (some from overseas), returning them to their electorate, making sure they are admissible, and counting them.

Reporters will go into what's called a lock-up at 1pm, where they will be given the results under a strict embargo. This gives them time to process the results and ready their reports ahead of the official release time.

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Party leaders are then expected to face the media to talk about the results. Labour and the Green Party have already scheduled their media stand-ups.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has made it abundantly clear he does not plan to begin official negotiations with National and Labour until after the specials are returned. He said it's important "the precise voice" of New Zealand is heard before negotiations kick off.

However, he did hold 30-minute, preliminary talks with Labour and National on Thursday to set the agenda.

These swift discussions were held on neutral ground, in a second floor meeting room positioned exactly half way between the Beehive and Labour's offices in the old Parliament building.

Following talks, Peters bizarrely suggested there was no guarantee the official results would be delivered at the scheduled time on Saturday. The Electoral Commission has quashed this, saying it was on track to deliver the results.

HOW WILL THE RESULTS AFFECT COALITION NEGOTIATIONS?

In the past, the Left has done better out of the special votes than the Right.

In 2014, the Green Party picked up a seat lost by National. In fact, the Greens have gained an extra MP after those votes were counted in all but one election since 1999.

This time it's looking like it will be Golriz Ghahraman, which would make her the first refugee to become a New Zealand MP.

Labour and the Greens are hoping for at least one (or perhaps two) seats between them.

Ardern has implied it would be difficult to form a strong and stable government as the results currently stand. Labour, the Greens and NZ First together only just make a majority, with 61 seats.

If they gain a seat or two, it would put that coalition government in a stronger position.

On Thursday, Peters said he would wait to see whether the specials results were relevant or not, and go from there. He would not elaborate exactly how the specials would play into his decisions, or exactly when official negotiations would begin.

If the Greens and Labour don't pick up any extra seats, it's likely Peters will first talk with National, where the two parties could form a majority government as the results currently stand, with 67 seats.

If those negotiations fell over, then Peters would likely turn to Labour and the Green Party.

However, if the special votes did return Labour and the Greens a seat, or two, it would make a centre-left coalition more viable.

This would likely mean NZ First would carry out parallel negotiations with National and Labour, making for one heck of a busy week.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

We wait.

Peters has a self-imposed deadline of October 12.

This leaves just over five days if negotiations kick off on Saturday afternoon, following the return of the specials.

That's not much time to create a new government, but Peters has said he believes the timeline is realistic and responsible.

In 1996, Peters was accused of holding the country to ransom after coalition talks took about eight weeks all up. He is trying to avoid those comments this time around.

English has said the pressure of Peters' timeline was "massive", while Ardern said it was "tight but doable".

Green Party leader James Shaw said it was fine if the timeline had to be slightly altered to allow for full and proper negotiations.

Labour would take the lead in negotiations and the Green Party would be brought in later, he said.

Preparatory talks so far have taken place behind closed doors, carried out by teams of people the parties tried to keep secret until the last moment.

It's unclear whether formal negotiations will take place under the same shroud of secrecy.

So in answer to the question everyone is asking: Will we have a new government by the end of next week? Hopefully.

- Stuff

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