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 must wait until after a final vote count on Oct. 7 before making a decision. About 15 per cent 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.

Peters, First Party likely kingmakers

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.

New Zealand Election

New Zealand’s Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern talks to hundreds of supporters after election results are announced on Sept. 23. (Associated Press)

On election night, the conservative National Party won 46 per cent of the vote. Ardern’s Labour Party won 36 per cent of the vote, the New Zealand First Party eight per cent and the Green Party six per cent.

The Green Party typically aligns with the Labour Party, giving the liberal bloc a combined 42 per cent of the vote.

The uncounted votes could also 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 favours. A former National Party lawmaker, he 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.