New Zealand coalition efforts intensify after final results give no clear winner

 Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Bill English speak during an election debate on August 31 in Auckland.

(CNN)Coalition talks in New Zealand entered a new phase Saturday after official final election results narrowed the gap between the two leading parties.

According to the final results announced by the Electoral Commission on Saturday, the National Party, led by Prime Minister Bill English, took 44.4% of the vote in the September 23 election to win 56 seats -- two fewer than were indicated by preliminary results.
The opposition Labour Party, led by Jacinda Ardern, picked up one more seat than provisionally forecast to take 46 in total, with 36.9% of votes.
The final results take account of special votes -- ballots cast overseas or by those who enrolled and voted at the same time.
    Prime Minister Bill English and his wife Mary cast their votes in Wellington on September 21.
    In the 120-seat parliament, 61 seats are needed for a ruling majority.
    That means both leading parties are now courting the New Zealand First Party, which took nine seats, and the Green Party, which won eight, in earnest in hopes of forming a coalition government.
    A coalition of National and New Zealand First would hold 65 seats, while if Labour can woo both New Zealand First and the Greens, that grouping could claim 63 seats.
    New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party would hold post-election discussions with both National and Labour on Sunday, CNN affiliate Radio NZ reported. Peters had previously said he would not begin serious coalition talks until the full results were released, the station said.
    Coalitions are nothing new for National, which has run a minority government since 2008.
    Ardern poses for a photo with a supporter on August 23 in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
    At the start of the year, English -- who replaced former National leader John Key in December -- was in a strong position and looked set to continue Key's electoral success by winning a fourth term in office for his party.
    But a surprise decision by then-Labour leader Andrew Little to stand aside at the start of the campaign made room for Ardern, 37, a three-term member of Parliament. After she took control of Labour, the party surged in the polls, leading the press to coin the term "Jacindamania."
    The election was largely focused on the economy, with National attempting to highlight its positive record, while house prices were a key topic of attack for Labour.
    Voter engagement was strong, with 79.8% of enrolled voters, or more than 2.5 million people, voting in the election. This was the highest turnout since 2005, according to Radio NZ.