Dotcom a force to be reckoned with

A general election campaign that already promised to be a colourful and controversial clash just got a lot more interesting, with German internet tycoon Kim Dotcom this week unveiling his own political party that will enter the fray.

Dotcom announced he was registering the Internet Party to contest the general election, with a leaked strategy document revealing the party could target key electorates in Auckland, and Dotcom himself suggesting reaching the 5 per cent party vote threshold was a goal.

Many will dismiss the party as a publicity stunt by a larger-than-life character who relishes the limelight. They shouldn't - yet.

Dotcom is a political force to be reckoned with. He has name recognition, a mountain of money, and a latent constituency that has become increasingly concerned about issues he has become the public face of.

While he can't stand for Parliament himself as he's not a New Zealand citizen, the Dotcom brand is a powerful one. He has become the face of legitimate public concerns about state surveillance, online privacy, and the threat to the sovereignty of New Zealand law posed by a Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

These issues are of little concern to most middle New Zealand voters, but they have fired up younger, tech-savvy Kiwis who are becoming increasingly politically conscious as they get older. There's a large pool of 20- and 30-something voters who don't identify with the political mainstream - they might not have even voted before - but who see Dotcom as a spokesman for issues that are real and important to their lives.

If the Internet Party can tap into that vote-rich demographic then it has the potential to alter the political landscape just enough to be influential. To realise that potential, however, Dotcom's party must be more than the vanity project it looks like to his detractors. With time to the polls ticking away, it shouldn't be long before voters find out just how serious he really is. It's been a week of lucky escapes, it seems. A toddler and a baby were pulled from a van on fire in a Palmerston North car park in a remarkable act of bravery, a father and daughter escaped their flat in the nick of time after a neighbouring restaurant caught fire in Feilding, and a man was seriously injured but survived a crash that saw his car plunge more than 20 metres into a ravine in Pohangina yesterday.

Each incident could have easily had a far more tragic ending, and should remind us all to take a little extra care out there.

Manawatu Standard