After days of drumming fingers everyone is ready for some action
OPINION: Remember the election? The highs? The lows? The extreme turbulence, the twists and turn? Who could have known that two weeks later there would be... nothing. The wait for special votes has given new meaning to the word "limbo".
MPs arrived at Parliament, moved into their new offices, then went home again. Bill English and Jacinda Ardern sat in their offices, drummed their fingers on their desks, and waited for Winston Peters to call. There has been just one cursory meeting between each of the big players since election night, and that was largely a flag waving exercise. A desire to show the punters that there is still life in the Beehive.
But in reality there have only been two dates engraved on everyone's minds since the election. October 7 - when special votes are counted. And October 12 - NZ First leader Winston Peters' self imposed deadline for coalition negotiations.
The one seems to make a mockery of the other. Peters forced the two week stand down for the very sensible reason that special votes might tip the scales one way or the other - even just one or two seats changing hands from National to Labour or the Greens could strengthen Ardern's hand, as she herself has admitted. The current one seat buffer under a Labour, Greens, NZ First coalition is likely too tight for Peters' comfort.
Before special votes, a National-NZ First coalition has 67 seats in Parliament - while a Labour, Greens, NZ First coalition would have only 61 seats. Labour and the Greens could pick up an extra one or two seats off National from special votes, tilting the balance.
But Peters has refused to shift the October 12 deadline out to accommodate the wait for special votes, a deadline that - given the lack of any substantive talks in the interim - looks impossibly tight.
So how can Peters stick to such a tight schedule?
There appears to be only one option, and that is putting all NZ First's cards on the table, all in one sitting. The big reveal. Portfolios. Bottom lines. Such as? On National's side, probably a u-turn on raising the retirement age to 65, and on Labour's side scrapping the water tax. What else? Big gold card concessions, moving Ports of Auckland to Whangarei, a curb on immigration, and a ban on foreign house buyers? Likely, though Peters isn't saying.
But once everything is on the table, the ball will be in English and Ardern's court. They will have to decide by October 12 which of Peters' bottom lines are achievable, and which is a step too far.
No one will confirm that is the process of course. No one will even confirm the likelihood of meetings on Sunday once special votes are announced Saturday - though it would seem bizarre if the negotiating teams did not get down to business immediately given the schedule everyone is working to.
But after two weeks in limbo, we are finally going to see some action.
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