Winston Peters says he feels as if he is "between the Devil and the deep blue sea" as National and Labour try to secure NZ First's support.
Peters met Bill English and his team for about 30 minutes this morning, and has just wrapped up a meeting of around the same time with Jacinda Ardern.
Leaving her meeting with her team which includes former deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen, Ardern echoed her "relentless positivity" campaign theme by saying the meeting was "very positive", and a "great start".
But Peters was less positive, saying his situation was like being "between the Devil and the deep blue sea here".
"Not in terms of the political parties. But we just can't win - you can't win with the public, you can't win with the media, you can't win with the commentariat.
"You can't win with people who believe it is all about First Past the Post, even though it is an MMP environment. And they just bang on day in, day out."
Peters said media had depicted the current situation as him holding the country to ransom, when his party couldn't start final negotiations until after special votes had been counted this Saturday.
"The whole thing has been depicted as one man holding the country to ransom. And I belong to a very democratic caucus and a very democratic board... they will get to make the decision and not one person."
New Zealand First has now agreed the ground rules with National and Labour for looming negotiations - saying absolute confidentiality is needed to avoid the talks becoming a "circus".
Despite Peters saying he wants to make a decision by next Thursday, policy was not discussed at today's meetings, which were only designed to agree on protocol for serious talks after special votes are announced this Saturday.
Peters said those ground rules weren't complicated.
"Do we agree to meet at a certain place on each occasion? Do we agree that we will have changed teams, depending on the subject matter?
"Do we agree that these talks are confidential... where the media are concerned as well, or we may as well hire the Westpac Stadium and turn on the lights and turn on the loudspeakers and just go for it. Now, we are not going to have that sort of circus."
Possible options open to the party include a full coalition inside Cabinet, a support agreement offering confidence and supply in return for some ministerial posts outside Cabinet, to sitting on the cross benches offering support on a case by case basis in return for minimal policy gains.
Peters said his party was yet to decide on its preferred governing framework. He said the short timeframe did not suggest NZ First was more likely to sit on the cross benches.
The counting of special votes on Saturday was crucial, Peters said, but even when that was done there could be uncertainty.
"The logistics of getting all those numbers counted may not happen - they [the Electoral Commission] may ask for a 24 hour extension."
National's team today included English, Gerry Brownlee, Steven Joyce, Todd McClay, chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and adviser Cameron Burrows.
Ardern's team included deputy leader Kelvin Davis, strategic adviser Mike Munro, former finance minister and deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen, finance spokesman Grant Robertson and chief of staff Neale Jones.
Before today's talks Peters met with some of the families of the men who died in the Pike River disaster. The New Zealand First leader told media that he intended to make sure a manned re-entry was committed to.
"Twenty-nine people lost their lives. They have been denied justice. And it is just contaminated with a whole lot of appalling political behaviour."
In preliminary results National won 58 seats, Labour and the Greens won 52 combined, and New Zealand First won 9. In a 120 seat Parliament in which 61 is required for a majority, Labour and the Greens and New Zealand First have only 61.
The special votes - some 15 per cent of the total - usually favour the Greens and Labour. Ardern has said she is hopeful the Labour-Greens bloc would pick up at least one extra seat.