This is absurd. More than two million people took the trouble to vote. For two months most had been conscientiously watching and reading the debate about the state of the nation and its future. They took their decision seriously.

It wasn't easy. The Labour Party had found an appealing leader at last who made us look long and hard at the party's ideas. We seriously contemplated a change, so seriously that in the first two weeks of September polls had Labour leading at times.

Then, as often happens in the final week of an election, the polls found most us returning to the voting inclinations we'd had long ago.

The polls were right. The result on election night: National 46 per cent, Labour 36 per cent. That's about where the parties have usually been for the past nine years. No change after all.


Yet now we are waiting for one man to decide which of the parties will govern us. He declared this week he does not believe the party with the most votes has a moral right to lead the government. Rather, he has the right to decide, with 7.5 per cent.

We haven't been in this position since 1996, the first election under MMP. After that election, and every subsequent election, the party with more votes has been recognised as the rightful government. Leaders of parties whose votes it would need for a majority in Parliament felt an obligation to do a deal with the winner. That is how the Labour Government survived in 2005 with just two seats more than National.

But it might not happen this time. A coalition of losers is a definite possibility, especially if special votes reduce National to a two point margin over the combined tally of Labour and the Greens. Mr 7 per cent (probably, after the specials) is planning to sit like King Solomon and invite bribes from both sides.

He and leaders of other losing parties are trying to convince us this is perfectly legitimate under MMP. Professors of politics explain that under proportional representation we get to elect a parliament not a government. Professors of politics need to think more carefully.

Elections for most people are not just a debate, they don't vote for academic interest, a parliament of neatly proportionate views is not the point of the exercise for them. They think they are electing a government and that matters to them very much.

Those who are going to accuse me of "first past the post" thinking, need to read the report of the royal commission that recommended MMP. The commission recognised the strength and stability of governments produced by the Westminster system and looked for a formula that could combine strong government with proportional representation.

It found one in Germany, where governments last a decade or more. Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term last Sunday with a lower proportion of the vote than Bill English has won. One big difference is that Germany's smaller parties - one market liberal like Act, the other Green - can be and have been in government with whichever party wins. The other big difference is that all Germany's small parties have a clear political purpose. None is a personality cult.

The strangest election night I've ever spent was as a reporter assigned to cover NZ First's evening in Tauranga. As usual, a number of television sets were set up around the party's hired hall, tuned to the results coming in, but only the reporters were watching them.


The mostly elderly members and supporters were happily sitting around tables of cakes and sausage rolls, sipping a beer or cup of tea, waiting for Winston Peters. They had not even a passing interest in the progress of the nationwide tallies, only Tauranga's. They spent the hours chatting about almost anything else as though it was just another Saturday night in the Citizens Club.

Peters appeared once the national trend was clear, did his usual prickly thing with the press, then his folk went home. I don't remember whether he had the balance of power that night but if he did, he could have absolutely pleased himself what he did with it. Those people didn't care.

That night comes vividly back to mind this week whenever I've heard Labour and Greens insisting a majority have voted for a change of government. Labour and Greens want a change, nobody knows, including Peters, what his voters want. He asked for a blank cheque and, regrettably, they've given it to him.