Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: The Internet Mana game-changer?

Mana leader Hone Harawira (left) and Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar perform a hongi after signing an alliance agreement. Photo / Getty Images
Mana leader Hone Harawira (left) and Internet Party chief executive Vikram Kumar perform a hongi after signing an alliance agreement. Photo / Getty Images

Criticism, disbelief, and a degree of mockery sums up the response to the newly launched Internet Mana Party.

The deal has finally been done, and most commentators and politicians are critical to varying degrees. Yet, the impact of this new force on September's election could be huge. Every political party from the Greens, to the Maori Party, to National could be negatively affected by this rising wildcard vehicle. As John Armstrong says today, in probably the most insightful commentary on the new party, 'The new party could yet be the surprise package of the coming election - especially if the other centre-left parties continue to flounder' - see: Devil of a deal puts Harawira in control.

Armstrong - who seems to be an exception, in terms of his openness towards the new strategy - says that the deal is a major win for Hone Harawira and Mana. He also emphasises the short-term nature of the deal, which only runs until six weeks after the election - a fact that is seemingly missed by most commentators.

There are all sorts of apparent ideological inconsistencies about the new party. But as I emphasise in my statements reported in Tim Hume's CNN article - Kim Dotcom, Maori nationalist: The world's least likely political bedfellows? - the common factor for the new joint venture is some kind of anti-Establishmentarianism.

But for most commentators, it seems the whole project is something to be mocked. To get a sense of this, see my blog post, Top tweets about the Mana Internet Party alliance. Alternatively, see Barry Soper's Dotcommunist, maybe just plain dotty, or Heather du Plessis-Allan's Seven Sharp feature: The Internet Mana Party - is there not a better name!?. For more critiques of the party, see Newstalk ZB's Mana Internet deal a 'poisoned chalice'.

Watch: Mana and the Internet Party merge


How well will the new party do?

Most commentators are predicting only very limited success. But as I pointed out back in January (see Dotcom's Internet Party - can it succeed?) , there is surely a chance the fledgling party could capture voters' imaginations and do extraordinarily well. I'm reported in the CNN article (Kim Dotcom, Maori nationalist: The world's least likely political bedfellows?; ) as suggesting the party could win six MPs. Interestingly, that's also the outcome currently on the cards according to the newly-launched iPredict stock for how much party vote the Internet Mana Party will win.

One of the most critical commentaries on the alliance is today's Dominion Post editorial, Marriage unlikely to last, which predicts only very limited success: 'The only question now is: will this political oddity, bred on the wrong side of the bed, have any appeal to the voters? Its best hope is to win about 2 per cent of the party vote'. (This editorial also somewhat misses the mark in seeing the Internet Mana Party as a 'merger').

Andrew Geddis also thinks the new party will struggle to achieve any sort of major electoral success - see his must-read blog post, Power acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. Geddis has a good discussion about how the alliance will work, and whether it is 'gaming the system'.

Peter O'Neill writes today that the party could shake up the election campaign: 'Strange bedfellows they may be, but a party based on the internet brings to the voting booth new players - young people who otherwise wouldn't bother. And there are a lot of them out there, who will vote as much along anti-establishment lines as for any informed notion of policy. And if that happens, it's not necessarily a bad thing. It may shake up other parties to pay more attention to that sector, although they may have to go online to tell them about it' - see: A marriage made in ... ? .

Note also that John Armstrong doesn't see the new party as getting more than a few MPs: 'But it is conceivable that a rejuvenated Mana might win two or three more of the Maori electorates with Harawira's Te Tai Tokerau. That would block the Internet Party from getting an MP off the list unless the party vote for the joint party were to top 2 to 3 per cent'.

The victims - other minor parties

The obvious potential loser from this new venture is the Green Party. If successful, the new party could take many votes away from the Greens' target market - especially youth, leftwing voters, and those generally dissatisfied with 'The Establishment' or the major parties. For this general reason, other parties like New Zealand First could also suffer, potentially jeopardising their attempts to make the 5% MMP threshold.

But it's the Maori Party that possibly has the most to lose if this party takes off and has a honeymoon period of four months. It could lead to Mana winning Te Ururoa Flavell's seat of Waiariki, perhaps finishing off the Maori Party for good. Adam Bennett even reports today that 'Labour has given some thought to pulling its punches in Te Tai Tokerau to give the alliance a better chance of bringing in additional left-block MPs' - see: Mana cites youth vote for link-up with Internet Party.

Not surprisingly, the Maori Party is therefore scathing about the partnership - see Radio NZ's Merger called slap in face for Maori. Of course the Maori Party's attack may be blunted by their own cosying up to millionaire National Party supporters at the Exclusive Northern Club recently. Mana claims no policy compromise with their new relationship - something the Maori Party cannot reasonably claim after 5 years in government with National.

There are, however, other accusations that Mana has sold its soul. And it's an obvious risk to its original reputation for being principled - see Radio NZ's Mana alliance 'taints purity of its ideals'.

Mana's John Minto deals with such allegations today in his blog post, A welcome strategic alliance - Mana and the Internet Party. It is very clear how strongly Minto supports the new arrangement and believes that no significant compromises have been made.

The leadership factor

Tomorrow's announcement of the Internet Party's leader will be a crucial step in determining whether the new formation is a game changer for the election or not. It is obvious that the chosen leader will be someone with a high profile and some sort of leftwing background. This can be seen from items such as TV3's Mana 'extremely happy' with Internet Party's chosen leader.

Speculation is rife at the moment, and will continue unabated until the identity is either leaked or announced tomorrow at 2pm. For current speculation about who it might be, see Chris Keall's Will Seeby Woodhouse be Internet Party leader?, Russell Brown's The Digital Natives, and my blog post, Top tweets about the Mana Internet Party alliance.

If the new leader really does live up to expectations then we might expect that the new party will do well in the next opinion polls. And if that's the case, then it could end up impacting the overall election result and even National's chances of governing after September 20.

Finally, for some humour on the new leader, see Scott Yorke's So who should lead the Internet Party?.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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