By Ana Nicolaci da Costa
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A final tally in New Zealand's inconclusive election due to be released on Saturday could see opposition Labour and the Greens gain a few seats, but will still leave nationalist New Zealand First holding the balance of power.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said he will not make a decision on which party to back to form a coalition government until after the final count.
Peters has held initial talks with Prime Minister Bill English and his ruling National Party and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, but more formal talks will take place next week. Peters has said he will make a decision by Oct. 12.
The National Party has won 58 seats in the 120-seat parliament, ahead of a possible coalition of 52 seats between Labour and the Greens. New Zealand First holds the balance of power with nine seats.
Judging by past elections the National Party could lose one or two seats in the final tally, which will count special votes which make up 15 percent of ballots and include overseas votes, said Oliver Hartwich, executive director of think-tank New Zealand Initiative.
"Labour or the Greens or both of them are going to pick up the seats from National. It would be quite surprising if they didn't because ... the special votes usually favor the left," Hartwich said.
Peters has in past elections formed coalition governments with both the National Party and Labour, and some analysts believe if Labour and the Greens gain more seats in the final tally it could make Peters more comfortable to again join them.
Peters' policies are thought to have more in common with those of Labour - both want to curb immigration, renegotiate certain trade deals and adjust the role of the central bank albeit in different ways.
"Nobody can really tell at the moment. He (Peters) has completely kept the cards (close) to his chest, nobody can read what he is going to do," Hartwich said.
While National and the Greens have enough seats to form a coalition government, Green Party leader James Shaw played down recent speculation that they may enter talks. The Greens have a working agreement with Labour.
(Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Michael Perry)