Dotcom: Wildcard becomes joker

With a single tweet the giant wrecking ball has morphed into a minor power broker. Having polled roughly nothing in the latest TV3 survey Kim Dotcom has promised his Internet Party – even before it is registered – will self-destruct if it can’t attract one in 20 voters to its side in polls leading up to the election.

His tweet on Tuesday confirmed what was always going to be the case, either formally or informally.

If you accept his party is all about ousting the Key Government, either as utu or to open a backdoor route to fight his extradition should the court case go against him, he was always likely to at least tip a wink to his supporters – if failure was staring him in the face. 

Raking off votes that would end up on the MMP compost heap makes no sense even to someone as iconoclastic as Dotcom.

When he mooted his party it had the real potential to harvest support from geekdom, the protest vote and the young non-vote. His potential to swing a tight election was real. 

Both National and Labour expressed private concerns and his latent power was underscored by a short conga line of senior MPs leading to his mansion.

Among them was Green co-leader Russel Norman who, perfectly properly, tried to persuade him not to go ahead with his party because it would inevitably draw off Left votes and make it harder to defeat the Key Government.

The shambles around the ‘‘party, party’’ launch took much of the gloss off the party earlier this year.

The potential electoral wildcard has now morphed into the joker.

The TV3 poll this week confirmed his worst fears; nil support; and private party polling is in line with that.

But TV3 also found some 20 per cent would consider backing his party – whatever that meant. 

Significantly more than twice as many Labour and Green voters than National voters would ‘‘consider’’ the Internet Party, suggesting Dr Norman’s concerns were justified.

(The poll incidentally also put the final nail in the coffin of blogger and would-be Dotcom adviser Martyn Bradbury’s absurdist view that it would be pin-stripped libertarians of the Right who would find the party attractive.) 

Dotcom’s assurance this week that he would close his laptop and pull out of the race is the second best option as far as the Greens (and Labour) are concerned.

But Norman went badly wrong by confirming in public that in government he would push for Dotcom’s extradition to be overturned.

On the political level it threw the door open to accusations of secret trade-offs – despite Norman’s denials. 

For a party that has made hay over ‘‘private’’ meetings and implied conflicts of interest between National ministers and corporate interests, it was a naive own-goal. Deny it all he likes, he has loaded a gun for National to fire at him every time he mutters ‘‘SkyCity convention centre dirty deal’’. 

But he also erred badly in apparently pre-judging the outcome of the ministerial consideration that must follow the court’s extradition ruling – especially if he is serious about being a senior minister or potentially the deputy prime minister in the next government.

Norman says the extradition is a two stage process – the court case and then the justice minister’s final call. 

But ministerial discretion to over-ride an extradition order should be something other than a purely political act and must be seen to be divorced from party political interests. 

To avoid bringing the process into disrepute, and to keep faith with partner countries, it has to be grounded – and the law contains specific grounds for rejecting extradition. Some are obvious, such as an assurance that the country seeking the extradition order will not execute an extradited New Zealander.

The minister’s decision should be exercised in light of all the facts at the time. Some of those may be illuminated by the court. None ought to be assumed months in advance.

To his credit – and with his Labour allies distancing themselves from him – Dr Norman later yesterday spun around the press gallery and clarified – as in changed – his position.

He said his opposition to Dotcom’s extradition was based on his current knowledge and the treatment the internet mogul had received so far at the hands of the authorities here.

But he was open to the possibility the court case, or other information that may emerge, could persuade him otherwise.

He also accepted he would have to stand aside from any decision-making around the Dotcom extradition were he in government. 

Too true he would.

Fairfax Media