Crikey founder Stephen Mayne could hold the balance of power in the Victorian Upper House, with an unexpected Steve Fielding-style preference run close to delivering him the fifth and final seat in Northern Metropolitan.

As counting continued today, the ABC Elections calculator said Mayne had snared the fifth spot in the Legislative Council, despite the anti-pokies candidate polling just 1.06% of the region’s primary vote. If he is successful, and the Coalition fails to win a majority in its own right, Mayne would become one of the most powerful figures in Victorian politics.

The former Jeff Kennett staffer and Herald Sun business editor is the beneficiary of a slew of preferences from other parties, including the Greens, Family First, the Sex Party and the DLP. However, at the crucial point in the count, he is only 41 votes ahead of Greens candidate Alex Bhathal.

That margin could evaporate, with a record number of pre-poll votes tending to favour the Greens and the Coalition. Although absentee and postal ballots, that are also yet-to-be-counted, could swing the result back in favour of Mayne.

The other four spots in Northern Metro are certain to be taken by Greens titular head Greg Barber, the Liberals’ Matthew Guy, and Labor’s Jenny Mikakos and Nazih Elasmar. The fifth will be decided between Mayne and the Liberals’ number 2 candidate Craig Ondarchie.

“It’s a simple question that I’m a smidgeon in front and during the counting of absentee, postals and pre-polls, and if the Green vote goes down marginally, I’m well placed,” Mayne told Crikey.

Mayne said that if, as looks likely, there was a non-Labor majority in the 40-seat upper house, and he emerged with a share of the balance of power, he would work in the mould of Andrew Wilkie to toughen Victoria’s lax poker machine regulations, which suck hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of low-income households each year.

Mayne said that ABC Elections analyst Antony Green had called him this morning to say that the summary page on his Legislative Council calculator had stopped working because the software couldn’t accommodate a non-party independent group winning a spot.

On the latest counting, the Coalition has won at least 19 upper house seats, Labor has 16, and the Greens have at least two. Country Alliance candidate Steve Threlfall could pick up Northern Victoria on Labor preferences and Western Metropolitan is also up for grabs with Labor’s Bob Smith and Greens MLC Colleen Hartland battling for the fifth spot.

As Crikey revealed in August, Mayne’s ability to snag preferences from the Greens and Family First had its genesis at the Federal Election, where a Mayne split ticket delivered Senate preferences to the two parties, in exchange for support at the state poll three months later.

He previously ran for the upper house in 2006 as part of the People Power grouping in Southern Metropolitan, however without the benefit of a favourable preference run the bid foundered despite recording a similar percentage of the primary vote.

Final confirmation of Mayne’s — and Victoria’s — upper house fate is likely to become clearer over the next few days.

UPDATE: Mayne has stretched his lead over Bhathal to 985 votes at the crucial 8th count with 68.38% of the vote counted, according to Antony Green’s calculator. Pre-poll and absentee ballots yet to be counted, postals continuing to dribble in.