Winston Peters appears in no hurry to get coalition negotiations underway, with 15 per cent of the votes yet to be declared.
They are the special votes which traditionally favour Labour and the Greens and could boost the potential majority in a Government with New Zealand First from its current one seat to two or three - or help to extract a better deal from National.
Caretaker Prime Minister Bill English rolled up his sleeves for a planning meeting with the six ministers in his kitchen cabinet in Auckland, keen to advance preparations for National's coalition talks with Peters, but without rushing him.
"We want to get on with the job of forming a Government but we will work with New Zealand First essentially at the pace they are willing to go," English said.
A National New Zealand First coalition on election-night numbers would deliver a majority of seven.
But Labour leader Jacinda Ardern insisted yesterday that she could form a stable Government with the Greens and New Zealand First, even with a majority of one.
"The majority [of voters] have voted against the status quo," she said. "But it is incumbent on us to see what we can do with that."
English said a National New Zealand First coalition would be more stable than a three-way "because you would have a relatively narrower range of issues to resolve and you could practically operate Government with sensible communication."
National's coalition talk team would depend on what issues the leaders agreed to discuss - respective experts would be brought in to help thrash out specific policies.
But Gerry Brownlee, a popular and senior Cabinet minister, is almost certain to be a key member of the team.
Peters yesterday hinted that he was not looking for the role of Deputy Prime Minister.
"Been there and done that," he said to a journalist in Russell when asked if he wanted the role again.
Peters' New Zealand First party holds the balance of power for the third time in 21 years.
English expected to speak with Peters in the next few days to talk about how they would organise negotiations.
He did not know whether Peters planned to conduct parallel negotiations with Labour as occurred in 1996 under strict confidentiality - neither side was told what the other was offering.
"But in any case we are going to proceed with a negotiation on the basis of a fairly strong position for the National Party."
Former Prime Minister Sir John Key described the election result as fantastic and "better than I could have".
Key said the result of 46 per cent after three terms showed a very strong wish for continuation of a National-led Government.
"Mathematically Winston Peters can put together a government with Labour and the Greens but the reality is, to do that he would have to go against what he has always done [support the winning party] and he would have to step away from the fundamental core value of democracy which is majority rule," Key told the Herald.
Labour was 10 percentage points behind National and the combined Labour and Greens were five points behind National.
"To go with them you would have to believe that the country wanted change, and to demonstrate that we would have had to lose a lot of seats." National lost only one seat, Christchurch Central - it also won Northland from Peters himself and Hutt South from Labour.
English has said that he had spoken to Act leader David Seymour and he did not expect Act to be part of the Government because it would complicate the arrangement.
English has not definitely ruled out approach the Green Party but was expecting some signal from the Greens before that would happen.
"The Greens have consistently ruled themselves out of discussions with National.
"We would need to see some indication of interest from them in constructive discussions and there hasn't been any indications so far."