Clark fights to cobble together workable government

By Audrey Young

Prime Minister Helen Clark will try to avoid formal coalitions and run another minority Government with confidence and supply agreements from all parties in Parliament other than National and Act.

That means the Greens can expect to be the disappointed bridesmaids at the Cabinet table for the third term running.

Today, Helen Clark begins meeting party leaders at Parliament to piece together a Government from the hodge-podge delivered in Saturday's election.

She said yesterday that nothing should be ruled in or out.

"There tends to be too much focus on coalition arrangements," Helen Clark said at a press conference in Auckland when asked about the Greens, with whom she publicly campaigned.

"I think it is important we move slowly and deliberately and talk through the issues with the range of parties who are interested in talking to us."

Helen Clark has another excuse for leaving the Greens out of coalition: United Future and New Zealand First will not back Labour if the Greens are in formal coalition.

But United Future leader Peter Dunne is expected to press for a Cabinet seat himself in exchange for his party's three votes.

The Prime Minister was far more subdued on Saturday night than her ebullient Labour supporters who prematurely claimed victory.

Just over 1 per cent of the provisional party vote separated Labour and National at the end of a nail-biter election night.

National claimed 10 electorates from Labour - Invercargill, Otago, Aoraki, Wairarapa, Whanganui, Napier, Tukituki, East Coast, Northcote and Hamilton East - and one from New Zealand First, Winston Peters' Tauranga.

Act leader Rodney Hide confounded the obituary writers and won Epsom despite a clear call to voters from National Party president Judy Kirk to support National's Richard Worth.

Helen Clark yesterday acknowledged that the task of pulling together a Government from what National leader Don Brash called "a dog's breakfast" was a much tougher task than the previous two minority Governments she has led.

She confirmed she wanted to secure more support than the straight 62 majority required.

"That's my instinct, to go for an arrangement which is as broad and inclusive as possible."

The Greens can expect to negotiate a strong co-operation agreement with Labour, on the back of their close relationship in the past three years, if they survive the counting of special votes.

The Greens just scraped in over the 5 per cent threshold and will lose all six MPs if they fall below it when the results of the 218,000 special votes are announced on October 1.

An exception to no coalitions will be the continuing agreement Labour has with Progressives leader Jim Anderton, but together they reach only 51 seats in a 122-seat Parliament.

It is possible, therefore, that if Helen Clark is successful, the support arrangements around the next Government could involve six parties: Labour and Progressives, with New Zealand First, the Greens, the Maori Party and United Future.

On election night figures, National could also form a Government with the support of Act, United Future, New Zealand First and the Maori Party.

But that would mean New Zealand First breaking its word to negotiate only with the party with the biggest number of votes, which Mr Peters has said he would not do.

His greatest priority for a confidence and supply deal - even to abstain - is some progress on a senior citizens' Golden Age card for concessions and rebates.

After special votes are counted it is possible National could be the biggest party and given the chance to form a Government.

That is the reason Dr Brash has sought to contact the Maori Party, United Future and New Zealand First leaders - ostensibly to congratulate them, but to open the channels of communication should it suddenly become the key player.

Helen Clark has spoken to Mr Dunne and Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

First on her schedule today is a meeting with Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia.

Mr Dunne said he would be meeting Helen Clark and Dr Brash.

"The meeting with Dr Brash, because of the way the numbers are, is obviously of less significance than the meeting with the Prime Minister would be."

Both the Labour and the National caucuses will be meeting in Wellington tomorrow.

Dr Brash hinted that he might be preparing to step down before the next election.

"Political parties in New Zealand and indeed elsewhere don't normally continue with leaders who lose elections and I understand and respect that."

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