WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealanders will likely need to wait two or three weeks to find out who will next lead their country after a general election on Saturday ended with an inconclusive result.
Prime Minister Bill English's National Party won the most votes but not enough to form a government without help from other political parties. While English appears to be in the best position to form a government, his liberal rival Jacinda Ardern hasn't given up hope she can prevail.
Party leaders expect to start coalition negotiations soon but wait until after a final vote count on Oct. 7 before making a decision. About 15 percent of votes have yet to be counted, including those cast by people who were outside of their district or overseas during the election.
English said the negotiations would take some time and could prove contentious.
"Everyone wants some indications of progress but two to three weeks is a reasonable period, I think," English told Radio New Zealand on Monday. "We have to spend time on this out of the light of the media."
He said his party was best positioned to form a strong and stable government.
Ardern said a majority of people had voted for change. She said a phone call she made to English on election night to acknowledge his party had won more votes than hers did not amount to a concession.
"Now it's up to us to see if we can form a stable coalition government," she said.
On election night, the conservative National Party won 46 percent of the vote. Ardern's Labour Party won 36 percent of the vote, the New Zealand First Party 8 percent and the Green Party 6 percent.
The Green Party typically aligns with the Labour Party, giving the liberal bloc a combined 42 percent of the vote.
The uncounted votes could make a difference. Those so-called special votes have tended to skew liberal in past elections, which could improve the negotiating position of the liberal bloc. Should the special votes skew conservative, liberals would be left without any realistic path to victory.
The crucial party in the negotiations is New Zealand First, led by maverick 72-year-old lawmaker Winston Peters.
Peters hasn't indicated which of the larger parties he favors. A former National Party lawmaker, Peters has formed coalitions in the past with both National and Labour.
His policies are eclectic. He wants to drastically reduce immigration and stop foreigners from buying farms. He opposes plans by the National Party to increase the pension age and plans by the Labour Party to tax certain water users.
Until negotiations are complete, English will remain as caretaker prime minister.