Winston Peters: How the kingmaker has ruled - and fallen - before

The formation of New Zealand's next Government sits in the hands of Winston Peters.

Mr Peters is often guarded, cagey and even cantankerous during media appearances, and it can be difficult to know what decision he might make and how he might go about it.

And he could well take his time.

On the night of the election, he asked for patience.

"We invite you to be patient and not rush out and ask us who you're going to go with. If we hear that one more time I think we'll be advocating a change of our political system," he said, before clearly indicating he was leaving his coalition options wide open.

So we must look to the past for some clues.

A former National MP, Mr Peters has propped up both major parties in the past.

Both times it ended badly for NZ First. The election following one government-forming deal, saw the party was knocked out of Parliament. It took just 4.3 percent of the vote after the other.

The party's first experience as kingmaker was after the first MMP election in 1996. After two months of negotiations with Labour and National, it chose to form a coalition with National.

That didn't end well. Mr Peters was sacked from Cabinet in 1998 and eight members of his party mutinied, propping up National as independents and allowing it to govern without NZ First.

NZ First's website is almost defensive about the coalition, saying "Labour could not muster sufficient votes to guarantee confidence and supply - even with New Zealand First. This was because Labour could not guarantee the votes of Jim Anderton's Alliance Party.

"Mr Peters was also concerned about the prospect of dealing with two parties who were bitter enemies at the time."

Mr Peters did gain policy concessions through the deal - including free healthcare for children under six - but despite the policy gains, NZ First took a serious hit. In the 1999 election, the party won 4.3 percent of the vote, only making it into Parliament because of Mr Peters' electorate win.

NZ First's decision to work with National during that election could be in part down to a desire to stand out from the governing party, allowing it to take credit for more visible gains.

"Labour and NZ First's social policies were so similar that the likely results would mean that NZ First would have to share the credit for changes," politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards wrote in a 2008 essay on the history of NZ First.

"Going with National meant that NZ First might, by contrast, be able to present itself positively as having hauled National back towards the centre" Dr Edwards wrote.

Audrey Young wrote in NZME in July that Mr Peters asked for the role of Prime Minister during negotiations with both National and Labour for at least part of the term, but, she wrote, a staffer told her said that could be a high-ball first-bid strategy rather than Mr Peters' personal desire.

Mr Peters' second take as king-or-queenmaker came in 2005.

Helen Clark-led Labour gave Mr Peters the roles of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Racing in return for his legislative support. UnitedFuture was also in on the confidence and supply agreement.

Mr Peters made one of his signature gains during this time - the SuperGold Card.

Winston Peters, Helen Clark, Governer General Dame Silvia Cartwright and Peter Dunne pose after the swearing-in ceremony in 2005.
Winston Peters, Helen Clark, Governer General Dame Silvia Cartwright and Peter Dunne pose after the swearing-in ceremony in 2005. Photo credit: Getty

But it still ended badly. Just prior to the 2008 election Mr Peters was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over party donations and was stripped of his Ministerial posts.

In the 2008 election, Labour was defeated and NZ First failed to reach the 5 percent threshold required to enter Parliament.

Before the 2011 election, NZ First publically ruled out forming a coalition with National, the Greens, Labour or the Maori Party. NZ First's version of events is that it was a public rejection of "media suggestions that New Zealand First would form a coalition with Labour and the Greens."

During both the 1999 and 2005 negotiations, Mr Peters worked with the party that gained the largest share of the vote.

The depletion of the NZ First vote following both deals will no doubt be playing on Mr Peters' mind.

Then there's the question of whether Mr Peters holds a grudge.

Just prior to this election, someone leaked the news Mr Peters had been overpaid his superannuation, no doubt embarrassing the man who has made superannuation his major policy focus.

On the Sunday morning after the election, Mr Peters said he will be the judge of other political leaders' character.

"I can best judge that by the way they behaved this campaign," he said.

"You know what happened this campaign."