OPINION: This time next year we will have a new government.
That's not a brave prediction of a Labour-Green victory - although it is no more unlikely than a third term for National.
It is a reflection of the changing and precarious fortunes of the minnows that keep the current government afloat, even if John Key is to again command the Treasury benches after the 2014 election.
As Parliament winds down for Christmas, you can barely fit a wafer between the two rival blocs.
An averaging of the published surveys - a so-called "poll of polls" - shows National winning 59 seats, so still needing minor party help to get to a majority.
It's snap on the other side; Labour (44) and the Greens (15) have a matching 59 seats.
Most commentators interpret the polls for the smaller parties in light of the existing electorate seat distributions - it seems unfair and subjective to do anything else.
On that basis National's two sure-fire allies, UnitedFuture and ACT, deliver two seats to the Right and Mana one to the Labour-led Left, leaving the Maori Party's putative three seats holding the balance of power.
NZ First is averaging below the threshold, so does not fit into the theoretical jigsaw.
But as time is passing the assumptions are becoming more and more stretched.
For a start the low party-vote polling of the smaller players is creating a larger number of "overhang" seats taking the Parliament up to 124 from the current 121.
ACT is averaging just 0.3, UnitedFuture barely anything, and the Maori Party just over 1 per cent. Mana is scraping together about half a per cent.
On the ground the reality is a country mile from the simple assumptions and could deliver a very different result.
The woes of ACT are well known. National will probably want to save the party with a deal in Epsom, but there is a real risk it could disappear - a fate not helped by the case against John Banks that will hit the courts in May.
Peter Dunne looks a safer - but not safe - bet in Ohariu and could also disappear form the House.
Labour's minor resurgence in the polls, from 27.5 per cent in 2011 to nearly 35 per cent now, is also squeezing its own allies and potential friends.
Polls suggest it could, even inadvertently, oust Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau especially if it stands Kelvin Davis again. If so, it would be bye bye Mana.
With Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia stepping aside, the Maori Party probably has only one seat it is confident of winning - Te Ururoa Flavell's Waiariki seat - and even that is not certain. The contest in Te Tai Hauauru is tight, and Labour has chosen a man in Adrian Rurawhe with all the right links to the influential Ratana church, which has been agitating for some time for greater representation.
NZ First thrived last time, thanks in part to Labour supporters voting tactically at the last minute, but that is not likely to be such a strong incentive next time around. If National again rules him out of a possible deal, and the Conservatives keep eating his lunch among older, conservative, and economic nationalist voters his base could be severely squeezed.
(It would be tempting to predict NZ First will be out of Parliament after 2014, were it not for the awful crowing and "media-got-it-wrong- again"-ing Winston Peters would revel in if he defied the odds again.)
Yes, everyone says the extra oxygen of a campaign helps lift third-party votes.
Yes, it is accepted wisdom that Mr Peters is such a potent campaigner he can never be ruled out.
Yes, a deal with the Conservatives is odds-on, giving National a potential three or four- seat lift.
And there is always the great unknown. Will a "sexy" party emerge, as they have over the years, that will also attract the protest vote?
Social Credit, Bob Jones' New Zealand Party, the Greens, the Alliance, UnitedFuture, NZ First and even ACT have all had their day in the sun.
But with the unlikely exception of the Conservatives, it is hard to see any of the options being fresh and interesting enough to fit the bill in 2014.
It is equally likely that there could be a massacre of the minnows.
With so many minor parties so close to their last gasp, and the two big blocks equally matched, the rise or fall of a potential government could turn on a political dime. -
A year out signs are the next government will be very different from the one we have now.
- © Fairfax NZ News