Final vote count in New Zealand election tightens close race

New Zealanders still don't know who will next lead their country after a final vote count from a general election two weeks ago tightened the close race between liberals and incumbent conservatives.

Election officials on Saturday released the final 17 percent of the vote tally, including votes cast by people who were overseas.

Negotiations to form the next government will now begin in earnest. The conservative National Party ended with 44 percent of the vote, while the liberal bloc of the Labour Party and the Green Party ended with a combined 43 percent.

That left both sides needing to negotiate with the small New Zealand First party, led by maverick lawmaker Winston Peters. That party finished with 7 percent of the vote, leaving it holding the balance of power.