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Oct 12, 12:19 AM EDT

Decision on New Zealand leader delayed by at least 2 days


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AP Photo/Mark Baker

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- New Zealanders must wait at least two more days before finding out who will lead their country after a small political party on Thursday delayed making a decision.

The main conservative and liberal parties are competing to form a government after an election last month ended inconclusively.

Crucial to the negotiations is the small New Zealand First party, led by maverick lawmaker Winston Peters. He'd earlier said his party would make a decision by Thursday.

But on Thursday he said any decision would need to be ratified by his party's board, which would meet Saturday at the earliest and possibly Sunday or Monday. Peters said the meeting would take place as soon as all the board members were available.

"We thought we could circumvent all that by doing it by Skype," Peters said. "But that would not be the kind of serious discussion we need to have."

Peters said it was the news media who had misunderstood the Oct. 12 decision he'd previously promised.

"I didn't set the deadline," he said. "I told you a certain thing and you misinterpreted it."

Prime Minister Bill English's conservative National Party won the most votes in the election and is hoping it can serve a fourth consecutive term.

English was not available for comment and has kept a low profile during the negotiations. Like the other party leaders, he considers the content of the negotiations to be confidential.

Jacinda Ardern's liberal Labour Party, which is aligned with the small Green Party, hopes it can lead the next government.

Ardern spoke briefly to reporters after meeting with New Zealand First on Thursday but didn't answer questions.

"What I do want to say is this has been a robust process. It's been an important process," she said. "It's a given that this process should take some time. We need to make sure we keep making a considered decision about the future of New Zealand."

Under New Zealand's proportional voting system, larger parties must typically form alliances with smaller parties to govern.

In the 120-seat parliament, National won 56 seats in the election, Labour won 46, New Zealand First won nine, and the Green Party won eight.

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