Key Points:

Personally I have never cared for the secret ballot. Why shouldn't everyone have to stand up to be counted? If you approach the decision with thinking and care, why not tell us what it is?

I'll tell you mine, if you'll bear with my thinking and credit me with care.

As I see this election we have come to a fork in the road where the signs point in two fairly daring directions: one marked Maori progress, one Green.

The signs are labelled National and Labour but neither of them is particularly daring at the moment. It is the partnerships they would have to make that will spell the difference.

Neither is likely to be able to govern without coming to terms with the Maori Party or the Greens or, in Labour's case, both.

If Labour gets back, it will be in a coalition with a Green Party that is unlikely to be as quiescent as previously. For its own credibility it cannot be. It is hard to believe climate change is as disastrous as the Greens say when they sit by while Labour postpones emissions trading or softens energy regulations for the sake of a good shower.

The Greens' sustainable economy might not be as restrictive, spartan and dull as I fear, but I don't want to bet on it. I'm going the other way.

National has no idea what a deal with the Maori Party means yet. It is that prospect that makes this election very exciting.

If the votes fall as polls have long suggested they will, next Saturday could be a defining moment for New Zealand's social development and future national character. Five, six, or all seven Maori seats are likely to hold the balance of power.

I very much hope they do and if my vote could help produce that result the Maori Party would get it. But since the party is bound to win more electorates than it would be awarded on the proportional vote, my vote would not help. It would hinder the party by reducing the gap between its electorate seats and its proportional entitlement, which increases the size of Parliament and makes it more likely National will need Maori support.

John Key wants to forge a partnership with another party even if it doesn't need one this time because next time it certainly will. But a partnership on those terms is probably not what Maori need.

They don't need more gifts or grants of authority, they need genuine leverage. For the first time since they signed the Treaty they are in position to give it to themselves.

The possibilities are so exciting that the Maori Party's campaign dares not talk about them and its MPs sound not sure yet how they will proceed. They are saying only that they will be seeking not so much a coalition partnership as a "Treaty partnership".

Party president Whatarangi Winiata said on TV One's Agenda last Sunday that discussions, "must start with an understanding of the relationship between the rest of the house and the Te Rangi Maori house in Parliament".

The what? The next three years are going to be quite an adjustment for the rest of us.

If the vote next Saturday puts Maori in the pivotal position they have promised to hold hui, open to all voters on the Maori roll, to guide the party's decision. But clearly it wants to deal with National. Co-leader Pita Sharples indicated as much last week when he said, "We would prefer in the first instance that Labour got the higher share of the vote."

That statement was preparing the ground for their supporters to accept that their overwhelming list vote for Labour will not necessarily be decisive.

A "Treaty partnership" with Labour and the Greens would be too easy to give Maori a sense of power. The partners would be too patient, too deferential. What Maori need - and the country needs to experience - has to come hard.

We may do a great deal of waiting for Maori decisions from now on. That would not be unusual under MMP. Many of the present Government's decisions have disappeared for long periods, some never to be heard again.

Part of the genius of Helen Clark has been to keep inter-party tensions out of the public eye. John Key might not be as adept, and neither National nor Maori might want to keep their differences quiet.

It is going to be frustrating and infuriating but if it means Maori start to become proud and prosperous on self-determination and shared nationhood, it will be the making of us.

That is why my vote next Saturday will go to National, if the final polls suggest it needs it, or Act if it looks like a complacent conservative Government will need a spur in its flank.