By Doug Woolerton
Opinion - This campaign has been notable for the early defection of three political party leaders following the surprise resignation of John Key a lot earlier.
Andrew Little, Metiria Turei and Peter Dunne all resigned during the campaign, setting the scene for very unusual and riveting news stories, which, in many ways, changed the flavour of the election.
The elevation of Jacinda Ardern to the leadership of the Labour Party reinvigorated their polling in a spectacular fashion and brought a whole new dynamic to the battle. Not only was Jacinda Ardern from a much younger age group, she was also making headlines for taking over the role within a timeframe that had hitherto been regarded in political circles as suicidal.
The combination of these events has tended to take the focus off the campaign of Winston Peters, who is often touted as the post-election kingmaker.
In that capacity alone he is newsworthy and draws opprobrium and respect in almost equal measure from the news media and public alike.
The question of who his favoured coalition partner may be is usually a constant irritation to him, and is equally unwelcome by the leaders of the two bigger parties, but it makes for good news stories and injects some mystery and suspense into campaigns, which are often dull. This campaign has been anything but dull and so the focus has not been quite so intense on the personality and thoughts of Winston Peters.
As the campaign draws to a close, political polling is so variable as to make guessing just as reliable a method of deciding who is winning at this point.
In circumstances such as this, the public and the media tend to revert to a pre-MMP mindset and comment more about the positioning of the two big parties relevant to each other, rather than looking at the overall scene. Comment on the overview does happen, of course, but the noise of what is happening with the National and Labour leaders and their polling tends to drown out the messages of Winston Peters and the New Zealand First campaign, along with the other smaller parties.
Winston has been a constant presence in politics over the last 30 years - albeit with a couple of short gaps - and he has been regularly in the news in this election too.
However, his messages and views have been somewhat over-shadowed by the drama of leaders of other parties dropping by the wayside, combined with the emergence of Jacinda Ardern as a leader with the ability to get Labour back in the race with a vengeance.
He has also been largely absent from political debates - in some cases because he has not been invited to participate; in others because he has chosen not to accept the invitation.
After the voters have spoken on Saturday and it is known who has the ability to form a government, Winston will be back in the news once more. The business of forming a working coalition will begin and the negotiations necessary to do that will then become the news of the day. One way or the other he will be a player in that.
* Doug Woolerton was a founding member of New Zealand First alongside Winston Peters and served as a list MP from 1996 to 2008. He now works as an independent political consultant and lobbyist.