WELLINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Winston Peters - a colourful, populist figure who rails against immigration - is poised to determine New Zealand's next government after a hotly contested election left neither major party with enough seats in Parliament govern on its own.
Below are some facts about New Zealand First leader Winston Peters:
* Peters was born in the far north New Zealand town of Whangarei in 1945 into a Scottish-Māori family.
* Peters studied law at Auckland University, where he was the captain of the Auckland Māori Rugby team. He later worked for a commercial law firm before setting up his own legal practice.
* Peters got his start in Parliament in 1978 as an MP for the National Party after winning a High Court case that overturned the election night result which showed his rival in the lead.
* Peters began sparring with his National Party caucus in the late 1980s and was sacked by then-Prime Minister Jim Bolger in 1991.
* In 1993, Peters set up the New Zealand First Party and won a seat in Parliament.
* Peters' New Zealand First was cast as kingmaker for the first time after the 1996 election, the country's first under the German-style proportionate representation system that favours smaller parties. He famously eschewed negotiation talks the day after the election to go fishing.
* Despite expectations he would back Labour, Peters eventually threw his support behind National and became the country's deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer.
* The coalition collapsed after Peters was sacked from the National Party-led Cabinet in 1998.
* Peters later served as foreign minister under Helen Clark's Labour Party-led government in 2005, during which time he became among a handful of Western politicians to visit North Korea.
* Despite holding the balance of power for a third time after Saturday's election, Peters did suffer a blow losing his seat representing his home constituency, Northland, to National.
* Peters regularly espouses nationalist views that he says reflect what regular New Zealanders think, but that many have criticized as xenophobic.
* In 2005, Peters blamed Asian immigration for "imported criminal activity". Last year, he described a Chinese company taking a majority ownership in a small New Zealand dairy processor as "lunacy", while he called dairy giant Fonterra's decision to send cows to China "economic treason". * Peters' policies have consistently centred around tight controls on immigration and foreign investment, as well as reducing taxation. He also advocates boosting welfare spending for the elderly, a key source of the party's support.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Lincoln Feast)
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