Winston Peters aims to lead the opposition

THE DAY AFTER: New Zealand First's Winston Peters reflects on his party's return to Parliament.
THE DAY AFTER: New Zealand First's Winston Peters reflects on his party's return to Parliament.

Winston Peters has done it again.

For the fourth time the NZ First leader has confounded the critics and staged a miraculous political comeback.

Despite many commentators saying it was too difficult for a party outside Parliament to return, NZ First won 6.8 per cent of the party vote in Saturday's election, sweeping it back with eight MPs.

Mr Peters' political career began in controversy as a National MP 33 years ago when he won an electoral petition overturning the 1978 election-night result in the seat of Hunua, south of Auckland.

After his split with Jim Bolger's National government in 1993, he won a by-election in Tauranga as an independent, which was no easy feat.

NZ First was severely punished by voters in 1999 after the party split in two over the coalition breakdown with Jenny Shipley's Cabinet, yet Mr Peters managed to hold on to the Tauranga electorate by just 63 votes.

His latest victory was no less astonishing, with some Right-wing commentators writing NZ First off as a wasted vote and National leader John Key dismissing Mr Peters as "volatile" and "unstable".

Mr Peters' comments on election night on Saturday, promising to be a "co-operative and constructive" opposition party, suggest that he is trying to allay those concerns.

A relaxed Mr Peters was unwinding at home in St Mary's Bay, Auckland, yesterday with partner Jan Trotman and their dog, chocolate labrador Bella.

The negative comments made before the election, along with an anti-Peters campaign run by the anti-MMP group Vote For Change, had backfired, he said. "People know when someone is being deliberately nasty and misrepresentative and vicious."

Vote For Change, which put up billboards featuring a photograph of Mr Peters and asking whether he should be able to choose the next prime minister, drove voters to NZ First, he said.

"The trouble is that these unreconstructed morons didn't realise it was great publicity for me."

Vote For Change spokesman Jordan Williams conceded the campaign may have helped NZ First's party vote, but said it also helped the anti-MMP campaign.

"As words came out of Winston Peters' mouth, the support for MMP reduced."

Mr Key said yesterday that NZ First would be a colourful addition to Parliament and he expected Mr Peters' party to vote for some of the Government's legislation.

"He's likely to spice up Question Time, that's for sure."

History showed Mr Peters was likely to cause Labour more problems than National, as he was quick to call himself the leader of the Opposition, he said.

Mr Peters said NZ First had gained some of its greatest legislative achievements from opposition, including the Foreshore and Seabed Act and supporting the creation of KiwiSaver.

"There's a lot of positive things you can do in opposition. It's not a hopeless job by a long shot."

The Dominion Post