NZ opposition leader Jacinda Ardern admits defeat

New Zealand's cliffhanger election ended in a stalemate Saturday, leaving maverick populist Winston Peters of the New Zealand First (NZF) party to decide whether conservative Prime Minister Bill English or his youthful challenger Jacinda Ardern forms government.

With 61 seats required to govern, National won 58 and its sole remaining political ally, ACT secured one, according to the New Zealand Electoral Commission.

Both the incumbent National Party and the centre-left Labour opposition need the 72-year-old to form government.

National and Labour had been nearly neck and neck in opinion polls, with charismatic 37-year old Jacinda Ardern nearly single-handedly dragging Labour back into the race after taking over the party's leadership in August.

New Zealand's complex proportional voting system means minor parties usually hold the balance of power, allowing Peters to carve out a parliamentary niche as the man in the middle of the major parties.

"We believe the country clearly wants a coherent government", he said.

He pointed out that National outpolled Labour and the Greens combined, saying voters had shown a clear preference for the centre-right party.

The Green Party will likely align itself with Labour, Bramwell said. Victory for us was always about victory for them. She said Labour hadn't "done as well as I would have liked" but she would continue to be "relentlessly positive".

Ardern has called on New Zealanders to ditch "autopilot" governance, hoping to ride a global wave of change that most recently propelled France's Emmanuel Macron to become its youngest head of state since Napoleon.

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The National Party waved so many olive branches towards Winston Peters last night the New Zealand First leader must have felt the winds 230 km north in Russell.

"This is going to come down to whether or not people turn out and vote", she said Friday.

Mr Peters said NZ First stood for more than the elite and his party had the main cards, but cautioned his MPs against commenting before that decision.

"We'll make a decision in the interests of all New Zealand and New Zealand First, that is the whole country, not ourselves in the party but in the national interest and that will take some time", he added.

The Opportunities Party has just over 2 percent support, and leader Gareth Morgan has conceded it won't be in the next Parliament.

And they offer some redemption for English, who led his party to its worst-ever defeat in 2002. New Zealanders voted for a change - more parties voted against National than for it.

She talked about contacting James Shaw.

Labour would get a coalition Government just over the line with the support of NZ First and the Greens.

There were 3.2 million New Zealanders registered to vote in the election, with a record 1.2 million of them opting to cast ballots early.

  • Megan Austin