Ground rules on how the two major parties should interact with Winston Peters in trying to negotiate a coalition deal, and little else, will be the topic of the first day of government talks, says 1 NEWS' Corin Dann.
But it will ultimately be for nothing if the Labour/Greens block can't pick up a couple more seats via special votes to legitimise their position above a one seat majority with New Zealand First, Dann said.
Speaking from Wellington today, Dann said journalists are camped out awaiting news of the location for the first day of coalition talks, with National up first this morning at 10am, and then Labour this afternoon.
"What today is about is setting the process, the ground rules, establishing the correct procedure, if you like, for the real negotiations which will kick in literally from Sunday morning, when those specials have been counted and announced on Saturday," Dann said.
"They are important but I don't think we're going to learn about any policies or bottom lines."
After that though, Dann said it would be five days of "very intense" negotiations.
Key, Dann said, was whether Labour and the Greens could pick up one or two more seats through the 380,000 special votes yet to be counted.
"Jacinda Ardern has made it pretty clear, in my mind, that if Labour and the Greens do not pick up one or two more seats in those specials then she is kind of, almost, going to have to step aside," Dann said.
Dann said the 61 votes that a Labour/ Greens/ New Zealand First coalition government would command as the votes stand would not "really quite be enough to be comfortable".
He said that if that total didn't change, National would be in prime position to form the next government.
If those negotiations fell over, then Labour and the Greens could slide in.