By Bernard Hickey
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters has won the Northland by-election in a significant blow to the National Government.
Peters had 15,359 votes to National's Mark Osborne on 11,347, the Electoral Commission reported with 100% of the vote counted at 8.45 pm.
"We hope this result in Northland gives hope to hundreds of thousands of forgotten New Zealanders elsewhere that you can say: 'Enough is enough. We are not going to take any more of this neglect, that you can say: 'we are going to send you a message'," Peters said in his victory speech in a pub in Russell.
The by-election loss by National of a seat it won with a majority of 9,300 in 2014 is Prime Minister John Key's first election set-back in almost a decade since he was elected National leader in November 2006.
The loss came after a promise to spend up to NZ$69 million to build 10 new bridges in Northland, which was criticsed as a bribe, and after Key personally campaigned with Osborne to help him get elected.
Labour candidate Willow Jean Prime received just 1,315 votes after Leader Andrew Little suggested Labour voters 'send the Government' a message, which was seen as a nod and a wink to vote for Winston Peters.
It will also force National to rely on United Future Leader Peter Dunne, the Maori Party's two MPs or New Zealand First to pass contentious legislation, including Resource Management Act reforms.
National with 59 MPs still has the support on supply and confidence bills of Dunne, the Maori Party and ACT's David Seymour, but will have to find the support of two extra MPs to pass other bills, or oppose members bills, given New Zealand First will have 12 MPs, Labour has 32 and Green has 14.
Osborne rang to congratulate Peters. "It's been a tough night," he told media in KeriKeri.
National's campaign manager Steven Joyce would not agree it was a humiliation for the Government, describing the by-election result as a "unique set of circumstances."
John Key was not in Northland as he was travelling to attend the World Cup final. He has cancelled his regular weekly post-cabinet Monday news conference because of his attendance at the cricket.
'Tide turning on National'
Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei congratulated Peters and said she agreed with him that it would send a message to the Government.
“The tide has turned on National,” said Turei.
“This is a deeply embarrassing loss for National in a traditionally safe seat. The loss of Northland shows how out of touch the National Government has become with ordinary New Zealanders," she said.
“That John Key thought his bridge and broadband bribes would work in Northland just shows how out of touch he is with ordinary Kiwis. Hungry kids can’t eat bridges."
Peter Dunne did not congratulate Peters.
“It has a touch of old times about it – returning New Zealand to the governing arrangement with virtually the same number of seats held by National, UnitedFuture, the Māori Party and Act (63),that we had between 2011 and 2014," Dunne said.
“And then as now, New Zealand First is still irrelevant," he said.
The Green and United Future parties did not stand candidates in the by-election.
(Updated with picture, final results, reaction from Greens and Peter Dunne)