Comment by Peter Wilson

The election results are starting to seem irrelevant as the outcome steadily boils down to a decision that's going to be taken by a group of 21 MPs and party officials.

National won 56 seats and Labour 46, a total of 102 in a parliament of 120 members, but it's a party with nine seats that's calling all the shots.

Prime Minister Bill English and Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern, who between them command those 102 seats, have no influence whatsoever over what happens next.

NZ First's caucus and its board will decide which of them leads the next government through a process the public will have no access to.

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And if NZ First had its way, they wouldn't even know who 12 of the decision makers were.

The party's caucus and its board will decide the outcome at a joint meeting.

There are 14 board members, including leader Winston Peters and his deputy Ron Mark.

Meet the people who will agree upon the next Government

The names of the board members have never been secret, and Peters points out they were all at NZ First's last annual conference where they would have been seen "by anyone paying attention".

But they're not identified on the party's website, and Peters defends that.

"By putting their name forward to serve on the board they do not expect to have their privacy invaded and to become public figures," he said.

Maybe they didn't expect to have their privacy invaded when they signed up but now they're going to decide who the next prime minister is going to be, and the rules have changed.

Media organisations have identified them and they're not particularly well known individuals, their names wouldn't mean anything to most people.

At the crucial meeting, on a date still to be decided but presumably it will take place this weekend or early next week, the board will be joined by the party's other seven MPs.

By then the caucus will have drafted two options papers. They will set out the deals offered by National and Labour, and the various ways a government can be formed.

It's not clear whether ministerial positions will have been worked out. Peters says that's something that could be dealt with at another time.

Presumably he means they can be sorted out by NZ First and the new prime minister when a cabinet is appointed.

Peters insists he won't be the one making the decision, and that it rests entirely with the caucus and the board.

But it would be naive to believe the caucus won't reach a conclusion before the meeting, and that the board wouldn't know what that conclusion was when it starts to debate the options.

Peters says he wants a "serious consensus" from the meeting, which might or might not be easily achieved.

Perhaps one of the options is demonstrably better than the other in terms of policy concessions, or stability could become an issue with three parties in a Labour-led government.

Joining National in a fourth term government, which would be unlikely to win a fifth term, has to be weighed up against granting an inexperienced prime minister the right to lead a first term government.

After negotiations ended on Thursday, Peters said he couldn't even guess what any of the decision-makers were thinking. He probably could, and he very likely already knows what his preference is.

- NZN