UPDATE: Labour expecting NZ First coalition pre-talks this week too
By Pattrick Smellie
Oct. 2 (BusinessDesk) - The Labour Party leader, Jacinda Ardern, has confirmed the party is in contact with the New Zealand First party to start preliminary discussions this week about government formation.
The statement follows one this morning from NZ First saying that its leader, Winston Peters, returned a phone call today in response to a message left last night by Prime Minister Bill English.
The two statements are the first concrete confirmations of talks to start mapping out the various possible outlines of a government formation agreement between NZ First, which holds the balance of power after the Sept. 23 general election, and either a combination of the Labour and Green parties or with the National Party, which is currently running a caretaker administration while a new government is formed.
Peters has previously said he will make no decisions on which way to jump until after the final count of all votes, due this Saturday, Oct. 7, with a view to having a new government announced by Thursday, Oct. 12, the day that the result is officially gazetted at Parliament.
Ardern said she had also spoken to Peters this morning.
“We will look to hold a meeting between our respective teams later this week, while we wait for special votes to be counted," she said. “Special votes remain an important part of the process for the Labour Party with more than 380,000 votes yet to be counted.
“In the meantime, we’ll continue to prepare ourselves for coalition negotiations."
There has been no statement today from James Shaw, the leader of the Green Party, who has also been touted as a coalition 'king-maker' if the centre-left Greens were able to work to form a government with the centre-right National Party, cutting NZ First out of the picture.
Shaw has said previously that no such deal is possible but that has not stopped National Party supporters promoting the idea in mainstream and social media for much of the last week, ratcheting pressure on Peters to engage in a process that he attacked media last week for seeking his comments on.
NZ First broke its silence this morning, saying "preliminary talks" will proceed with the National Party "this week when arrangements suitable to both parties are concluded" and "expects the same will occur if and when other parties make contact".
It appears Ardern made contact after that statement was issued.
Peters confirmed also that "the staff of New Zealand First have been, and are, in contact with staff from other political parties" than National.
Some 384,000 special votes, around 15 percent of the total, were cast either overseas, outside a voter's electorate, or by a voter who both registered to vote and voted on the same day in the fortnight of early voting before election day.
Peters has nominated Thursday next week, Oct. 12, as the date by which coalition negotiations would be completed, but had given no hint before now that discussions about the broad outline of possible government coalition or support agreements could occur prior to Oct. 7. He did say last week there were nine possible permutations for forming a government with either the National Party or the Labour and Green parties.
Between them, Labour and the Greens won 54 seats on the election night count, compared to 58 for National, leaving NZ First in a king-maker role with nine seats.
However, historically, special votes have tended to shift one or more seats to parties of the left, which could strengthen the options for a Labour-Greens-NZ First combination, which confer only 61 seats, or a slender two-seat parliamentary majority, on election night results.