All eyes on Win­ston

‘We hold the main cards’, Pe­ters tells the party faith­ful. By Tony Wall.

Sunday Star-Times - - ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2017 - Win­ston Pe­ters re­sponds to ques­tions about why ex-PM Jenny Ship­ley turned up to his Rus­sell elec­tion party.

Weaker, yet more pow­er­ful. Thanks to the quirks of MMP, NZ First finds it­self with fewer MPs, yet right at the cen­tre of talks to form a new Gov­ern­ment.

Pro­vid­ing he doesn’t go fish­ing – as he fa­mously did in 1996 af­ter re­sults came in – Win­ston Pe­ters will be on the phone to­day to his cau­cus col­leagues to talk tac­tics af­ter Na­tional com­fort­ably won the party vote.

It wasn’t the great­est night for the wily old cam­paigner – los­ing his North­land seat to Na­tional’s Matt King by about 1000 votes.

That must have been a blow to his pride but he could con­sole him­self with a solid show­ing in the party vote – NZ First win­ning just over 7 per cent for nine seats, down from 2014’s 8.66 per cent and 11 seats, but putting the party ahead of the Greens.

It means that Pe­ters will be part of Gov­ern­ment for a third time – and just as well, as he said dur­ing the cam­paign ‘‘it’s now or never’’ as far as him lead­ing the party back into power was con­cerned.

While Na­tional is in the box seat to form a Gov­ern­ment, a LabourGree­ns-NZ First coali­tion is an­other pos­si­bil­ity. Bryce Ed­wards of Otago Uni­ver­sity’s pol­i­tics depart­ment said he thought Pe­ters would re­fer to go with Labour be­cause he’d have more in­flu­ence than he would with Na­tional.

Pe­ters told the crowd gath­ered at Rus­sell’s Duke of Marl­bor­ough pub that while his party didn’t hold all the cards, ‘‘we hold the main cards’’ and the cau­cus would spend the next few days dis­cussing who to go with.

Top of Pe­ters’ wish-list in ne­go­ti­a­tions is likely to be a North­land rail link to Mars­den Point, a cut to im­mi­gra­tion num­bers and a state as­sets buy-back pro­gramme.

Ed­wards said the dom­i­nance of the two ma­jor par­ties had cre­ated a para­dox this elec­tion.

‘‘It’s the con­tra­dic­tion of this cam­paign ... [NZ First] are weak on the one hand ... yet Pe­ters is go­ing to be the most pow­er­ful politi­cian since he was in 1996, it’s quite bizarre.’’

NZ First was as high as 13 per cent in the polls in July, when ‘‘Jacin­da­ma­nia’’ took the wind out of its sails.

Ed­wards said Pe­ters’ su­per­an­nu­a­tion pay­back scan­dal ‘‘must have hurt them’’.

One thing was the lack Jones. that sur­prised him of im­pact by Shane

‘‘I thought they were go­ing to be this dy­namic duo cam­paign­ing to­gether but Shane Jones was in­cred­i­bly silent and unim­pres­sive.

‘‘There’s been talk of a fall­out be­tween them ... it’s cer­tainly plau­si­ble. Jones has not looked like a true be­liever.’’

Jones is hav­ing a cham­pagne break­fast in Whangarei to­day but he doesn’t have a lot to cel­e­brate – run­ning sec­ond to Na­tional’s Shane Reti.

Jones said it was ‘‘pop­py­cock’’ that there was any fall­ing out be­tween him and Pe­ters. The agreed strat­egy had been that he con­cen­trate on Whangarei and the north while Pe­ters cov­ered the coun­try.

The most im­por­tant is­sue for him was mov­ing the Ports of Auck­land to North­port at Mars­den Point.

‘‘I cam­paigned so strongly on that it’s a mat­ter of per­sonal cred­i­bil­ity.’’

He also wanted to see the restora­tion of the forestry and fish­ing in­dus­tries in the north.

Jones said a lot of ru­ral vot­ers who might have been con­sid­er­ing NZ First ended up go­ing with Na­tional.

‘‘What’s driven it? The air raid siren’s gone off, you’ve had the Labour Party drop­ping agri­cul­tural stink bombs up and down the coun­try and those vot­ers have been sum­monsed back to home base, which for Na­tional party.

‘‘They’re very of vot­ers.’’

He said while many Na­tional vot­ers claimed they were jump­ing ship to NZ First, ‘‘I don’t think they were telling the truth about that. It was al­most as if they were a bit ner­vous about it. I chose not to count those chick­ens.’’

NZ First MP Ron Mark said the party would push its core poli­cies – im­mi­gra­tion, eco­nomic sovereignt­y, sale of state as­sets, sell­ing land to for­eign­ers - in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

‘‘Those ques­tions will al­ways be fun­da­men­tal and our board al­ways has a say – it’s ac­tu­ally not just about Win­ston.’’ many tribal was those the sorts

DIG­I­TALLY EN­HANCED IM­AGE

The re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of Win­ston Pe­ters en­ters an­other chap­ter.

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