If Winston Peters was hoping the final count of votes would make his decision easier it has not.

With an unusually large number of special votes cast this year he had reason to hope they might go heavily to the left, giving Labour and the Greens a margin over National. But the left has picked up little more than it usually does on specials, gaining two more seats at National's expense. It means that a centre-left government could have a majority of three seats which is more comfortable than the single seat margin it had on election night.

In one sense that makes Peters' decision harder. Both sides would now have a comfortable majority with NZ First's support. He now has to decide what most of the voters want.

Labour is arguing the results speak for themselves, there is "a majority for change". But that assumes all those who voted for NZ First wanted a Labour or Labour-Green government. That is a big assumption, nobody knows what they wanted because Peters gave no indication before the election what he would do.

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NZ First is a repository for votes of people who do not much like either National or Labour. There has always been a proportion of the New Zealand electorate who declare a plague on both their houses and either do not vote or look for an acceptable third party. Peters has appealed to those people because he not only keeps his distance from both sides but presents himself as a check on both. His supporters think he "keeps them honest".

He and they are probably happier when his party is not in power but twice previously an election result has made his party's support necessary to provide the country with a government. Both times he has given its support to the party with the most votes as did Peter Dunne each time his party was in a similar position.

Peters has given no indication that he will do so this time. Indeed, he says he does not agree with National's contention that having won the election it has a "moral right" to continue governing. But Peters knows that every government needs to be accepted by voters who did not vote for it. They might not like what it does but they need to be able to accept that it is the rightful government. That has to be uppermost in all parties' considerations this week.

If Peters installs a Labour-NZ First-Green government it will be the first time under MMP than New Zealand will be governed by parties that came second, third and fourth past the post. This was liable to happen sooner or later with proportional representation and constitutionally it is perfectly legitimate but more than a million people who voted National in the final count might have to be persuaded the outcome is fair and just.

Nobody knows whether they will be persuaded until MMP is put to this test.

Being part of a new government might have more appeal to Peters and his party than joining one that is nine years old. However, National's vote in the final count is 44.4 percent, which is only fractionally below the 44.9 percent it had nine years ago. No government has sustained levels like this since the 1960s, none has won a fourth election since 1969. To deny it a fourth term could be a hard call.