The jockeying for position during negotiations has begun after the final election results, with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern saying she now expects to become Prime Minister and National arguing the loss of two seats does not alter its position of strength, Sam Sachdeva reports.

Labour and the Greens have closed the gap on National with special votes counted, picking up a seat each at the expense of the largest party.

The final result has not changed NZ First’s “kingmaker” status, but the improved performance of the left could aid their cause in coalition negotiations with Winston Peters.

Announcing the results, chief electoral officer Alicia Wright said the overall turnout for the election was 79.8 per cent – the highest figure since 2005, when 80.9 per cent of enrolled voters had their say.

National dropped two seats in the final results, to 56, while Labour and the Greens have gained one seat each, to 46 and 8 respectively.

That means the Labour-Green bloc has 54 seats – up from 52 on election night.

Both NZ First (on nine seats) and ACT (one) were unchanged, while there were no changes to the winners of individual electorates.

A National-NZ First coalition would have 65 seats, and a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition 63 – both comfortably ahead of the 61-seat majority needed.

‘New Zealanders voted for change’

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said the party was “really pleased” with the final result, arguing it showed most Kiwis wanted to see a change of government,

“These results show that the majority of New Zealanders voted against the status quo, they show the majority of New Zealanders voted for change….

“This now means that we have a strengthened mandate to negotiate and form a durable, stable coalition government.”

Ardern said negotiations would now begin “in earnest” this weekend, with Labour mindful of both Peters’ October 12 deadline for a decision and the need to deal with complex policy issues.

“We’ll strike that balance about moving as quickly as we can and as responsibly as we can.”

Asked if she now expected to be Prime Minister after the Thursday completion deadline set by NZ First, she said, “Yes”.

She rejected any suggestion that National as the highest-polling single party should have any advantage in negotiations.

“I think on election night there was already a majority for change. I think that’s been extended.”

Labour was well placed on policy, Ardern said, to complete negotiations, and would deal with NZ First and the Greens separately.

Asked why the public should believe it could be stable given NZ First’s history of instability within coalitions, she said Labour had proven it could successfully lead such arrangements from 2005.

When it was pointed out that stability fell apart with Peters standing aside as a minister amid scandal late in the term in 2008, she said only that that was the year when Labour lost the election.

Green Party leader James Shaw said the final results “push us closer towards the change of government that so many New Zealanders want”.

“I think on election night there was already a majority for change. I think that’s been extended.”

Seeking to preempt any move from NZ First to sideline the Greens from a formal coalition, Shaw said his party would not give up ministerial portfolios if Peters demanded it.

“The Greens have always said that they want to be at the heart of the next Government.

“I also think the most stable form of government with a three-way coalition is a full coalition.”

National leader Bill English argued the results confirmed National’s “strong position”, as it remained ahead of the Labour-Green bloc.

“It would have been nice to keep those two seats…but it doesn’t fundamentally change the equation.

“I don’t think it weakens it [National’s negotiating position] significantly at all, the fundamentals haven’t altered…now it’s really a matter of negotiating the policies and structure that are going to deliver a continuing strong economy.”

English said he did not see any need for a change to the MMP system, despite concerns expressed by some.

NZ First leader Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB he was not surprised by the final results, and felt vindicated in his decision to wait for them.

“I think it was always going to change. And so the special votes were important for that reason. And knowing the facts now as we do have them puts us in a better perspective to make judgments.”

Comings and goings

National’s drop means West Coast-based MP Maureen Pugh will leave Parliament after less than two years, while first-time candidate Nicola Willis has failed to hold on to her provisional seat.

For the Greens, Golriz Ghahraman will become New Zealand’s first refugee MP, while Labour’s Bay of Plenty candidate Angie Warren-Clark will now enter Parliament.

Wright told media she was pleased with the high turnout, which may in part have been due to the decision to put voting places in areas like supermarkets and malls for the first time.

“We had a focus this election on putting voting places where voters are…our biggest voting places were in those places, and we think that’s had a role to play.”

Advance votes made up 47 per cent of the overall number cast, up from 30 per cent in 2014.

There were 446,287 special votes in total, including 61,524 cast from overseas.

While NZ First leader Winston Peters has criticised the time taken to count the final votes, Wright defended the process, saying there were a number of legal requirements to fulfil while the final batch of overseas votes didn’t arrive until this week.

“It’s prescribed by law, we have a whole lot of steps that [we have to go] through.”

A total of 2,630,173 votes were cast.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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