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Winston Peters says he's going to change New Zealand - where is his mandate?

A handful of NZ First supporters at a rally before the election. The power is now all theirs.

OPINION: Seventeen days have passed since the election but it might as well be another election in another country.

Can you even remember what you were voting for? And does it even matter? From the little we can glean of the discussions behind closed doors Winston Peters is negotiating for the heart and soul of this country. Or at least that's his take. In Peters' own words: "These talks are about a change in the way this country is run. Both economically and socially."

There is a problem with that. Peters stood on a policy platform that was rejected by more than 90 per cent of New Zealanders. His only mandate is to extract a few policy concessions and maybe a ministerial portfolio or two from either National or Labour to do the best by the 7 per cent of people who voted for him.

Winston Peters has had the run of the Beehive for the last 16 days.

READ MORE:
* Winston Peters: It won't be known on Thursday who the new government is
* Clearing the bad blood between Winston Peters and Greens
* Winston Peters' bark is much scarier than his bite

If Peters had been acting like the leader of a 7 per cent party this is something that could easily have been done within the self imposed two week deadline that he set for himself. The fact that Peters now says that deadline may not be met is a sign that these talks have gone well beyond that. It seems that everything is up for negotiation, and Labour and National are totally on board with that.

The two major parties have given Peters the run of the Beehive while Bill English and Jacinda Ardern keep a low profile to avoid upsetting the famously capricious NZ First leader.  

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English has even worked out a route to the second floor Beehive room where talks are being held that neatly avoids the media, so there is no chance of upstaging Peters on his many media standups on his way to and from the Beehive.

So fearful are both major parties of losing the upper hand in the negotiations they've agreed to blanket silence while Peters apparently has free licence to talk.

The only pictures voters have seen on the nightly TV news since the election are of Peters, a man few of them voted for, looking and sounding like the proxy prime minister in whose hands rests a decision on the shape of the next government - which of course it does.

Two decades ago the country hung on Peters' every utterance for six weeks while NZ First shuttled between National and Labour, before doing the deal with National.

That hurt Peters politically. Of all his legacies, it is the one voters most remember. That and the way he played Helen Clark and Jim Bolger off against each other. It was for this reason his campaign trail promise this time round was that there would be a quick decision. 

NZ First was nearly obliterated after voters rejected that approach and a backlash against the tail wagging the dog.

Peters wants to be careful that history isn't repeating itself.

 

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