Without an election result, who's in charge right now?

If you've been wondering who's actually running the country right now, you're not alone.

It's been almost a week since the election, and there's another eight days until the special votes are counted and Winston Peters picks up the phone to start negotiations on forming the new Government.

Usually it's pretty clear who'll be in charge, and we're lucky in New Zealand that we've always had a peaceful transfer of Parliamentary power when voters throw a Government out.

But this time, it could go either way.

So what's going on? Is New Zealand in a state of anarchy? While it might seem that way, think twice before you go looting and listening to punk rock.

The answer

We still have a Government - the same one we had before the election, in fact. Bill English is still the Prime Minister, Steven Joyce still has his hands on the purse strings, and even though he's already cleaned out his desk, Peter Dunne's office has assured us he is indeed still Internal Affairs Minister (then he tweeted it to confirm).

Any policies or planned actions announced before the election can still be carried out, but no new big decisions are meant to be made.

According to a directive issued by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet earlier this week, any decisions "with long-term implications should... be deferred". If they can't be postponed, their effects should be temporary and be reversible by the incoming Government, if possible.

If this can't be achieved - let's say for example, there was an emergency that required a swift and decisive response - then the Government "should undertake the political consultation necessary to establish whether the proposed action has the support of a majority of the House of Representatives".

In the end however, there are no "rules" per se; it's up to ministers and chief executives of the various Government departments to make calls on a case-by-case basis. If decisions are particularly hard to make, ministers are urged to discuss them "with the Prime Minister and/or their ministerial colleagues".

In the end the buck stops with the Prime Minister, who has the "final decision concerning the caretaker convention".

Bill English
This man, Bill English, is still the Prime Minister. Photo credit: Getty

Cabinet meetings still go ahead "as usual" until the new Government is formed. Presently, "any urgent matters arising that require Cabinet level decisions" are looked at by the minister concerned, plus Gerry Brownlee, Mr Joyce and Mr English.

The new Government is expected to be made official on October 12, with MPs starting their official terms in Parliament the next day. Any retiring/defeated MPs are expected to have cleared out their desks and offices by October 21, and the new Parliament is expected to be sitting by late November.

Once a coalition deal is struck

So what if Mr Peters makes up his mind early? Well, it depends on which way he goes.

If he signs up with National, aside from a few policy changes and perhaps a ministerial shuffle, the Government can get back down to the business of pushing ahead with National's agenda (perhaps with a little NZ First colouring).

But let's say Mr Peters holds a press conference this weekend to say he's cut a deal with Labour and the Greens - then what?

Until the new Government is formed, as above, the present administration cannot make any major decisions. But if an urgent decision was required, they'd be expected to do whatever the Labour-Greens-NZ First coalition tells them.

"The outgoing Government should... act on the advice of the incoming government on any significant constitutional, economic or other issue that cannot be delayed until the new government formally takes office - even if the outgoing government disagrees with the course of action proposed," the procedures state.

So don't worry. While the future direction of the country might be in limbo, it's not as if no one's hands are at the wheel.