Last Saturday's election night was the seventh time I've been asked to contribute to Television One's coverage, and it was without a doubt the oddest.

For a while it seemed that everybody except the hapless Maori Party had won.

National had lost just 1 per cent of its vote despite it seeking a fourth term in office and losing Sir John Key, its star performer. Labour had dramatically grown its vote by nearly 11 per cent over its 2014 score.

The Greens had survived a near death experience to scrape back into Parliament with a touch under 6 per cent of the vote and New Zealand First had weathered a ferocious attack by the National Party to occupy the pivot position with more than 7 per cent of the vote.


I was considering what this all meant when I fielded a call from an old friend in the Australian Labor Party who congratulated me on "my side" winning the election.

His simple logic was that parties that had been in opposition in the outgoing Parliament had a one seat majority on election night.

I had to explain that this did not yet amount to decision as yet as one of the "opposition parties" had a history of supporting either of the major parties.

The election-night situation may well change with the addition of special votes into the count but only in the unlikely event of National winning extra seats would the calculation change that makes New Zealand First the "pivot" or deciding party.

If the more probable outcome occurs and Labour or the Greens win an extra seat, then a one seat majority for The Labour/Green and New Zealand First combination becomes a much more comfortable three seat majority.

We are already hearing outraged voices proclaiming that National, as the biggest party, has some sort of god-given right to claim victory. But the brutal fact of the mathematics is that National suffered a reduced vote, saw two of its three support parties ejected from Parliament and even with its sole surviving ally, ACT, is two votes short of the magic 61 seats needed for a majority.

Thus the country finds itself in the same position as it was after the first MMP election in 1996, with the same party and party Leader, Winston Peters, choosing which of the major parties leads the government for the next three years.

We'll have to wait till the dust settles to declare a winner and at this point it's easier to work out who lost than who won.

In general the biggest victims of the 2017 general elections were the minor parties.
More than 80 per cent of the vote went to Labour and National.

Both the Maori and United Future Parties, which had supported the outgoing National-led government, lost their seats and will exit Parliament.

United Future was always a personal vehicle for Peter Dunne and was never going to survive his retirement. When he saw a poll which put him well behind Labour candidate Greg O'Connor in his Ohariu seat he opted to go, but don't feel too much sympathy for Peter.

As one of our longest serving MPs, he has retained the old gold-plated parliamentary superannuation and will be one of the last MPs to have an income well in excess of $100,000 for the rest of his life.

The elimination of the Maori Party from Parliament was greeted with shock by the people around me on election night, but with hindsight this should not have been too surprising.

Although the party won four of the Maori seats in 2005, Hone Harawira soon left to form the Mana Party and when the party founders Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples retired from Parliament in 2014 both of their seats returned to Labour.

This left the party just one electorate, Waiariki, in the hands of Te Ururoa Flavell which validated a list seat held by Marama Fox.

Labour candidate Tamati Coffey was well known from his television appearances and for a previous run in the general seat of Rotorua, but the best guess is that the association with the National Party during a period in which Maoridom went backwards by many measures was what finally sank the Maori Party.

We now face a period of uncertainly while the two big parties negotiate with Winston and any pundit who predicts an outcome risks their reputation.

On Radio Live the day after the election I guessed that National had a 70 per cent probability of leading the next government and Labour 30 per cent chance and I've seen nothing since that would change my opinion.

Negotiations will be tough and the only factoid I could add is that I have recent eye-witness testimony to the fact that Winston's mastery of cryptic crosswords remains undimmed in his 72nd year.