As the stardust starts to settle on this extraordinary election and the politicians get down to the serious business of forming a government, all eyes turn to the man who must decide whether or not he will crown a King or a Princess.

Winston Peters will not make his mind up much before October 7, when the results of special votes will be announced, and between now and then acres of column inches will be exhausted on attempts to divine his intentions.

Part of the uncertainty stems from the relative absence of formal rules in New Zealand for government formation. Unlike other countries, where there are constitutional requirements regarding matters such as the duration of coalition negotiations and the sequence in which parties must talk with each other, here there is little legal guidance.

Aside from the political imperative to have something figured out by the time Parliament has to meet, which is roughly eight weeks after the election, we just leave it to the politicians to sort out.


But the critical matter of who gets to form the next administration aside, there are at least three other important things that happened on Saturday night that are worth talking about.

The first is that the idea MMP has transformed our political system into a genuinely multi-party system was revealed for what it has always been - a bit of a myth.

The 81.8 per cent of the vote that National and Labour hoovered up between them on election night this year was the highest combined vote for the two major parties we have seen under MMP.

Things may change a little once the results of special votes are announced, but the 2017 election is a reminder that the two traditional parties continue to dominate New Zealand politics.

From time to time smaller parties gain policy concessions: think the Māori Party's Whanau Ora (which may now be at risk), Act's charter schools and, going much further back, the Green's royal commission on genetic engineering.

But look at who gets to sit around the Cabinet table and at the content of budgets - both remain resolutely dominated by one or other of the two major parties.

The cloak of multi-party parliaments also slipped a little on Saturday night. Overall it was a bad night for minor parties. New Zealand First is an exception because it holds the balance of power (though it lost two MPs).

But the Greens' caucus has been halved, the Māori Party is gone and United Future has vaporised.

The next Parliament will contain just five parties, fewer than any other MMP Parliament. If you like a broad range of parties in your Parliament, you might be looking sideways at the one we chose on Saturday.

The disappearance of the Māori Party was one of the shocks of this year's election. It is one of ironies of MMP that small parties can be punished for getting too close to larger parties. It happened to New Zealand First in 1999.

The Māori Party has not only lost the one seat it had, it really struggled in the party vote. In Waiariki it took just under 20 per cent of the party vote but in every other Māori electorate it fared very poorly. So much so that in two of those seats it came fourth.

The fact that it was pushed into fourth place by two parties, National and New Zealand First, whose antipathy to the Māori seats is such that they do not even bother to stand candidates in those seats, will have been very distressing to the Māori Party faithful.

The mana of Labour's Māori caucus, on the other hand, may well have been enhanced. Its sitting MPs took a risk in taking themselves off the party's list and contesting their electorates only - and every one of them prevailed.

In doing so, they may have finished the Māori Party as a serious political force. What the consequences of King Tuheitia's endorsement of the Māori Party's candidate may be remains to be seen.

In Aotearoa New Zealand we do not directly elect our governments. Our role in that process is to choose a Parliament.

We did that on Saturday, and while things may shift around a bit on the margins when special votes are announced in a fortnight or so, it is unlikely the ground will alter significantly.

At the end of the eighth MMP election Winston Peters finds himself back where he was after the first: holding the balance of power.

Beneath the surface, however, other fundamental shifts are going on, and they may well have a bearing on how the leader of New Zealand First chooses to roll the dice.

• Richard Shaw is professor of politics at Massey University.