Dotcom sets sights on politics

SIMON DAY AND STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom will launch a new political party later this month, with one expert tipping it could help determine the makeup of the next government.

Dotcom resigned from his director's position at his data hosting site, Mega, last year to focus on his extradition case and building a political party.

"Where the government is supposed to serve us the people, we are paying with our taxes that they do a good job for us. But look what they do, they undermine our rights, they destroy our freedoms, they censor our internet, so we are the ones who have to bring that change," Dotcom said in a documentary by international magazine Vice, released last week.

"That is why I get involved in politics because I am f . . .ing tired of this nonsense and someone has to stand up and change this," he said.

The United States is seeking to extradite Dotcom to face charges of copyright conspiracy, racketeering and money-laundering allegedly carried out by his file-sharing company, Megaupload.

Dotcom confirmed to the Sunday Star-Times via Twitter that he planned to announce details of his political party on January 20.

University of Otago political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said the party had the potential to "throw a spanner in the works" of the election campaign.

"His promised new party is far from certain to get into Parliament, but depending on how well it tickles the fancies of some of the more radical, marginalised, and disillusioned voters and non-voters, the so-called Mega Party could have a huge impact on who forms the next government," Edwards told the Sunday Star-Times.

The Electoral Commission confirms Dotcom cannot stand for Parliament himself because he is not a New Zealand citizen. However, he can still play a central role in the party as leader or president without being a candidate.

"So far Dotcom has had an incredible influence on New Zealand politics - from the GCSB fracas through to the legal trials of John Banks - which all suggest that we need to look at what a Dotcom party might represent, what it might aim to do, where its votes might come from, and what effect it might have on coalition formations if the party got elected to Parliament," Edwards said.

Rumours around potential candidates include a "well-known broadcast journalist", according to Edwards. And he believes a number of bloggers and political activists will gravitate towards the new party.

"Dotcom's political position and potential voter demographic is complicated. Presumably the party's ethos will lean towards libertarian beliefs and his $50,000 donation to John Banks' Auckland mayoral campaign indicates a right-wing bent.

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"While clearly aligned against John Key and National, it is difficult to imagine him warming to a Labour-Greens interventionist style government," Edwards said.

Dotcom's party has the most potential to take votes from the Green party where there is the largest apparent ideological overlap, and it could also be the final nail in the Act Party's coffin, Edwards said.

But Dotcom's party could also appeal to those who wouldn't have voted otherwise. In the last election nearly 1 million New Zealanders who were eligible to vote chose not to.

Edwards said Dotcom was probably too polarising for his party to win an electorate seat and it was likely to focus instead on the party vote.

"Dotcom's celebrity profile will be an important campaigning device, and the likely key to any possible success. All over the world, celebrities from the world of entertainment, media, sport and commerce are becoming more and more powerful in electoral politics," Edwards said.

Dotcom has until one month out from the election to get the 500 members required and register a party. Although there is less than a year until an election must be held, modern politics operated very quickly in a world of social media and instant communication, Edwards said, adding it was still unclear whether Dotcom planned a serious bid for power or whether his political ambitions were "just a further extension of his self-serving strategy to grow his ego".

"His lack of clear statements about what he wants to achieve suggests that latter - that the project is merely part of his idiosyncratic role in public life."

Dotcom did not respond to requests for an interview.

THE NEW PARTIES WHO WANT YOUR VOTE

"Is there room for them alongside me, that's what I want to know?" asks Ben Uffindell, editor of satirical website The Civilian, when asked to consider the surfeit of new parties declaring their hand for this year's general election.

"I think this is the kind of year where everyone wants in."

Like a sommelier comparing vintages, Uffindell says this year will be the first really good election since 2005, and his brand-new political party will be ready - along with a host of others, not just the one planned by Kim Dotcom.

"We're extremely serious about doing it, and the moment the website goes up [this week] is the moment I stop talking about it earnestly - so you're probably the last person I will [talk to like this]," says Uffindell.

"It's a satirical political party, so it's not serious in that sense, but it's serious in the sense we are actually doing it . . . the best way to satirise political parties is to be one."

A recruitment campaign on university campuses next month should garner the 500 members required to register with the Electoral Commission, and Uffindell plans to run in three seats ("what will be the most entertaining, what will have the richest irony," he says - so Epsom, then).

"65 seats would be the best outcome really, please New Zealand," he says, deadpan. "Realistically - maybe 52?"

Uffindell will occupy a patch left wide open by the dissolution in 2010 of the Bill and Ben Party, and for those with longer memories, the long-departed McGillicuddy Serious Party.

And it's hard to imagine much competition for Thrive New Zealand, who want every piece of legislation decided by an X-Factor style public vote.

But there's something of a scrum forming among those wanting to be the voice of those exercised by Maori Rights and the Waitangi Tribunal.

On his Facebook page, Pakeha Party founder David Ruck reports that he's overcome a business dispute, unemployment (and a dispute with Work and Income), and is now chasing the final few members to become a legit party.

Ad man John Ansell, author of the infamous National Party iwi-kiwi billboard campaign, is debating whether to form his own single-issue party, frustrated by what he calls the "invisibility" of the similarly-minded 1Law4All party, run by Napier man Tom Johnson.

There's no room for two, says Ansell, but whoever leads the charge needs to be aggressive. "You do need to be pretty provocative about it - you've got to be in your face with this issue," he says.

With his knack for a slogan, he's already designed a brand for his campaign - "Together New Zealand: support your race. The human race" and says he has an undeserved reputation for divisiveness and hopes "forward-thinking" Maori would support him.

And if this wasn't enough, there's some scrambling on the right wing, where Act's continued woes may have left a slight opening; political lobbyist and commentator Matthew Hooton says he's still contemplating forming his own party.

So New Zealand's 14 registered political parties could swell to nearer 20.

Not surprising when it costs nothing, takes about eight weeks and needs just 500 financial members.

- Sunday Star Times

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