WELLINGTON, Oct 1 (AFP): New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark secured a historic third term in power Saturday when final election results confirmed her Labour Party as the biggest political force in parliament.
Clark said she was hopeful of forming a government within a fortnight after opposition leader Don Brash conceded defeat with his National Party trailing Labour by a mere two seats.
Final election results show Labour steady on their provisional election night tally of 50 seats, but National was down one seat to 48.
Clark said she would begin talks with minor parties on Monday to secure the support of the 11 more seats necessary to form a working majority in the 121-seat parliament.
"I'll be making contact with people either by phone or face-to-face in the next few days," she said in the South Island town of Nelson where she was accompanying Britain's Prince Andrew on a royal tour.
The Greens (six seats) and Progressives (one), are confirmed Labour allies while New Zealand First (seven seats) and United Future (three) have indicated they would support the party that won the most seats.
The 55-year-old Clark, who becomes the first Labour leader to win three terms in office, said she welcomed the official confirmation of her election night lead.
"As I said on election night, the result of voting appeared to give the Labour Party the opportunity to begin negotiations to form a new government," Clark said.
With the potential supporters covering both sides of the political spectrum, Clark cannot afford to alienate either side if she wishes to maintain her option of turning left or right to pass her legislative programme on a case by case basis.
New Zealand has been in a political limbo since the September 17 election, when provisional results gave Labour a one-seat margin over National and with 218,000 absentee and overseas votes still to be counted.
Labour has already held preliminary talks with five minor parties seen as potential allies, while Brash clung to the hope the election night outcome would be overturned.
But in the end it was his party that suffered most in the audited count and he had no choice but to accept defeat.
Brash said he would continue as leader of the National Party and the election result showed Labour did not have a right to a winner-take-all attitude.
He said his message to minor parties was that the New Zealand public had not wanted an all-powerful Labour-led administration.
After the two-week wait for the final results, the political focus now turns to Clark's talks with the minor party leaders. The negotiations are unlikely to be plain sailing.
New Zealand First and the centrist United Future, with 10 seats between them, have expressed reservations about the Greens being in government, which could see Labour sticking with a minority coalition with the small Progressives and getting agreement with minor parties on key measures.