Jacinda Ardern says Winston Peters has "left a huge legacy", as an outgoing New Zealand First MP says she doesn't know what the future holds for the party or its leader.
New Zealand First is out of Parliament, after getting 2.7 per cent of the preliminary results, and the focus is now on whether 2020 was Peters' last campaign.
Any retirement could end NZ First as a political force, given how closely linked the populist party is to its founding leader.
Asked about the result today, Ardern said her thoughts were with the "good people" from NZ First she had worked with over the past three years.
"I think he's left a huge legacy," she said of Peters, saying she had sent him a message and hoped to speak to him soon.
Ardern said she hoped a way could be found for Peters to give the equivalent of a valedictory speech. She was asked if Peters could be knighted, and said the honours process was never publicly discussed, anyway.
Jones fronted media outside the Duke of Marlborough at Russell, where NZ First held its function last night, and said there was "not a doubt in my mind" that Peters would stay on as leader.
"Our rangatira Winston, he's resilient, he's tenacious, and I'm sure when the time is right he'll tell you exactly what he feels.
"And it's up to the board and our rangatira Winston to ascertain and chart a way forward. But look, today is arguably a day for the red tide. But there is a lot of red ink coming our way economically-speaking."
Long-standing NZ First member Tracey Martin - who held ministerial posts last term - has told the Herald she doesn't know what the future holds.
"Winston is obviously the master of his own destiny, and he has been a pretty formidable force in New Zealand politics. But I honestly don't know," said Martin, who is looking forward to working with her husband on their wine-making business.
"NZ First is the political party for me. If it doesn't exist, well, then I've got other things to do with my life. But I do happen to believe that a centrist party like New Zealand First, needs to be in the mix."
Martin said the process for the party could be similar to 2008, when a few months after NZ First exited Parliament the party president called a special general meeting, with representatives asked whether they wanted to keep NZ First going, and, if so, how they'd make a comeback.
Was there a party without Peters? "The reality for NZ First is we just haven't tried yet. But that's going to be a question also for the party."
The Covid-19 pandemic buffeted NZ First's 2020 campaign, and took immigration levels out of the spotlight, given the country's closed borders.
Peters attempted to differentiate NZ First from Labour and criticised elements of the Covid response, saying his party would have brought the military in sooner to sort out quarantine facilities, and opened up limited travel with Australia.
He ran as much on what NZ First had stopped (a capital gains tax, for example) than what it had secured (the huge provincial growth fund, for instance).
Martin - who said her work as Children's Minister and efforts to improve how Oranga Tamariki operated was something she was proud of during her time in politics - told the Herald the campaign strategy could have been better.
"I don't think you can discount Covid, because it's been the biggest thing we've all talked about for this year. Certainly, I think the leadership the Prime Minister has shown, and the Coalition Government has shown, during this time, New Zealanders have appreciated it.
"I think the opposition made a mistake - and I think we did too - made a mistake by trying to attack what was a really good track record, and a prime minister who had gained the trust of New Zealanders, during a pandemic."
Who is to blame for that? "I don't know, I wasn't part of the strategy team there, sorry, so I don't know whose idea that was."
Jones said what was in front of NZ First was "vastly different" to three years ago, when it held the balance of power and ultimately chose to form a Government with Labour, installing Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister.
"The leadership of the party, we'll regroup and work out the various pathways forward."
Jones hadn't spoken to the party's other outgoing MPs, "given that I consumed about a gallon of red wine last night", and chose his words carefully when asked about caucus member Jenny Marcroft showing up at the Labour Party function last night.
"It sort of reminds me of that leadership race, when I stood against David Cunliffe and Grant Roberston. And I remember my other mate Phil Twyford managing to get to both parties - sadly not my own.
"What I would say is that Jenny is a private citizen, and no longer a member of Parliament, and what she does and how she does it, it's up to her."
Labour's performance in rural seats left him "astounded".
"Let's face it - there was a red tsunami, and the public were obviously tuned in to the whole Covid korero, and the forces that are rightest ... it was not a night for us.
"All the people who have been bitching and moaning about me, and complaining to me about the effects of the Government's policies, I will now say to them, trot off to Matt King."
On his own future, Jones said it wasn't easy to maintain a political life when not in Parliament, but those questions would be worked through at another time. Politics was "about charting a course, depending on the weather", he said, and "the weather will change".
In a short speech last night, Peters said his party had a long and proud history of challenging the establishment, and "tonight more than ever - that force is still needed".
However, Peters was coy about his next move: "As for the next challenge, we'll all have to wait and see."
Peters' campaign started after an undisclosed illness and surgical procedure, and was dogged by a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the NZ First Foundation, an entity set up to handle donations.
Two people are facing charges, it was announced late last month (with name suppression, and not MPs, candidates or current party members) - timing Peters criticised as a "James Comey level error of judgment", and NZ First sought a High Court declaration the SFO abused its powers.
Other NZ First MPs now out of Parliament include Fletcher Tabuteau, Tracey Martin, Ron Mark, Darroch Ball, Mark Patterson, Clayton Mitchell and Marcroft.
NZ First/Winston Peters' milestones
1979: Winston Peters is elected National MP for Hunua. Loses the seat in 1981.
1984: Peters wins Tauranga electorate for National.
1990: Is appointed Māori Affairs Minister but sacked by Jim Bolger in 1991 for criticising leadership.
1992: Expelled from National Party caucus for challenging the party's direction.
1993: Peters resigns from Parliament, forcing a byelection in Tauranga in February which he wins as an independent. Launches NZ First on July 18 at Alexandra Park raceway.
1993: Wins Tauranga in general election and Tau Henare wins Northern Māori and becomes deputy, ushering in the first two NZ First MPs.
1996: Party wins 17 seats in first MMP election, including all five Māori seats. Enters coalition with National, led by Jim Bolger, with nine NZ First ministers and Peters as Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister.
1998: After a coup against Bolger in 1997, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley sacks Peters and he ends the coalition. Eight NZ First MPs defect to stay with the National Government.
1999: NZ First gets 4.3 per cent but Peters keeps his Tauranga seat with just 63 votes and the party survives with five MPs.
2002: NZ First secures 10.4 per cent of the vote and 13 seats, including Peters' older brother Jim.
2005: Peters loses Tauranga to National's Bob Clarkson but gets 5.7 per cent Party Vote and 7 MPs. Enters confidence and supply agreement with Helen Clark's Labour Government with Peters as Foreign Minister.
2008: Peters is stood down from ministerial roles during investigations into donations. Privileges Committee sanctions Peters for failing to declare donation from Owen Glenn. National leader John Key rules out a deal with Peters. NZ First gets 4.07 per cent in election and is out of Parliament for three years while National governs.
2011: NZ First gets 6.6 per cent in the election, and returns with 8 MPs. NZ First MP Brendan Horan is later expelled for a dispute over his mother's will but stays in Parliament as an Independent.
2014: Party returns to Parliament with 8.66 per cent and 11 MPs but no electorate seat. National gets third term.
2015: Peters wins Northland byelection, thereby gaining an additional list MP, taking the total to 12.
2017: Peters loses Northland but party returns to Parliament with 7.2 per cent and nine MPs, holding the balance of power. Chooses Labour-led Government with Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister, Peters as Deputy PM and Foreign Minister, and three other NZ First Cabinet Ministers.
2018: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern takes six weeks off to have a baby, leaving Peters as Acting Prime Minister.
2020: NZ First and Peters out of Parliament, after getting 2.7 per cent of the preliminary vote.