It's a political paradox that the Assembly election might only start getting interesting once all the results have been declared. With no party likely to gain an overall majority, political editor Tomos Livingstone considers who's considering getting into bed with whom
PETER says his friend Rhodri won't work with Ieuan. Nick wants to be friends with Ieuan and Mike but they're not sure. Mike used to be a bedfellow with Rhodri, but can they still get on?
Confused? Welcome to the world of Assembly coalition negotiations, where the shadow boxing, and the coded overtures have already started.
With four main parties, you need to be a mathematician to work out all the possible permutations as well as a political pundit. Some combinations have already been ruled out, some are a little far-fetched but some are very much on the table.
We've been here before, of course. In 2000, Rhodri Morgan decided that soldiering on without a majority was doing nothing for the standing of the newly-formed Assembly, and climbed into bed with the Liberal Democrats. That came to an end when Mr Morgan won half the seats in the 2003 election, allowing him to sleep a little easier by going it alone - but coalition politics will probably become the norm, rather than the exception, in Cardiff Bay.
This is largely a feature of the voting system, which allocates one-third of the seats under a form of PR which "tops up" the tallies of the smaller parties. In theory it should lead to greater co-operation and less mud-slinging between parties, but there hasn't been much evidence of this so far.
The most likely outcome is a revival of the 2000-03 Lib-Lab deal. It has a lot going for it - both sides have worked together before, and it would allow First Minister Rhodri Morgan to stay in post (until he retires in 2009), and allow the Lib-Dems to gloss over the modesty of their gains (assuming they are modest).
It's also interesting to note that no one on the Labour side has explicitly ruled this out (although plenty of AMs and activists would not be over the moon, exactly), while the Lib-Dems have toned down the rhetoric on PR in local government. Mike German, leader of the Lib-Dems in the Assembly, suggested not so long ago that Mr Morgan "shouldn't even pick up the phone" unless PR was on the table. Now it would "certainly not a very helpful way of negotiating" to put one policy at the top of the wish-list.
Other coalition bedfellows for Labour - whose official line is, of course, that they are fighting for a majority - have been ruled out. Working with the Tories is obviously a non-starter, and the idea of a deal with Plaid, briefly on, is off again. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was as categorical as you can be on that in the Commons last week.
Other permutations are those which don't involve Labour at all, a rainbow coalition of Tories, Plaid and Lib-Dems. This idea has been used by Labour in its campaign to suggest that we could end up with a Tory First Minister. Plaid say they would not be a junior partner in any such coalition - but if they get more seats than the Tories, who knows?
Astute readers will notice that, either which way, the Liberal Democrats end up in Government. The fourth party may end up being as popular with their political opponents as they are with the voters.
The rainbow coalition idea is given credence by some of the manoeuvrings surrounding the Tory manifesto. It is set to include a call for PR in local government (ironic, given the Lib-Dems' downplaying of their favourite idea) and more powers (over policing) given to the Assembly - a love letter to the Lib-Dems and Plaid? We'll wait and see.
There is one option that hasn't got much of an airing - carrying on as if nothing has happened. Labour has privately mulled over the idea of trying to govern if it dips from 29 to 27 seats, but what happens if they go to 25, or 23?
Back in 1999 Alun Michael governed with 28 seats, relying on the support of other parties on a case-by-case basis. A governing party only needs to get its nomination for First Minister approved, and to get its Budget through, to stay in office. The problem is that, as Mr Michael found out, the others can throw you out of bed if they wish, and you might not get much done.
It's not impossible, especially if the rainbow coalition idea flounders. Labour AMs would have to resist the temptation to mock their opponents for not getting a Government together, for fear of provoking them into finally getting their act together.
So the Assembly would survive thanks to a form of mutually assured-destruction.
OK, it might not go nuclear. But watch carefully what the politicians say and do in the coming weeks. They may tell us it's all about May 3, but the future of Wales will depend on who'll get the most phone calls on May 4.
How a marriage of convenience may look... - page 2