New Zealand 'kingmaker' reneges on election deadline

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's populist "kingmaker" Winston Peters says he will not meet a self–imposed deadline of Thursday to announce an end to the country's election deadlock.

Peters has been in talks with Prime Minister Bill English and opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern all week about forming a coalition to form government.

Both Ardern and English need the support of Peters' New Zealand First party to claim victory in the Sept 23 election and the maverick 72–year–old has said repeatedly that he would make his decision known by Oct 12.

But he backed away from the pledge late Tuesday after wrapping up another session of negotiations with English's centre–right National Party.

Asked when an announcement would be made, he told reporters: "Not on Thursday night, no."

"The answer is as soon as possible after Thursday night."

Pressed on whether it would be before or after the weekend, he said: "I can't quite answer those questions as it depends on others as well."

Peters insisted his goal was always to complete the coalition negotiations by Thursday, not announce his decision.

However, that contradicts statements he has made repeatedly since July, when he said he would not let coalition talks drag on.

"I make this guarantee that whatever decision New Zealand First arrives at post–election, it will be made public by the day the writs are returned (Oct 12), which is within three weeks from polling day," he said at the time.

David Seymour, a member of parliament from the right–wing ACT party and a long–time critic of Peters, said politicians usually waited until they were in government before breaking their promises.

"But Winston Peters has brought a new innovation by breaking his promise to decide tomorrow, before a government's even formed," he told Radio New Zealand.

"And sadly for New Zealand, this shouldn't be a surprise."

It is the third time Peters, best known as an anti–immigration campaigner, has found himself in the role of kingmaker under New Zealand's proportional voting system.

He opted for National in 1996 in return for being made deputy prime minister and backed Labour in 2005 after it agreed to make him foreign minister. — AFP