Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

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

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: Dotcom's Internet Party - can it succeed?

Will Kim Dotcom's internet party be a success?
Will Kim Dotcom's internet party be a success?

Amongst the circus surrounding Kim Dotcom's new Internet Party, two big questions stand out: 1) Will it succeed, and 2) What does it stand for? Many of the more important and interesting commentaries look at whether it is genuinely relevant - rather than a trivial sideshow - and what impact it could have politically and ideologically.

1) Will the Dotcom Internet Party succeed?

Kim Dotcom reportedly aims to win seats at the 2014 general election. But is this really a plausible goal, given that no new parliamentary party has arisen from outside of Parliament since the Act Party at the first MMP election in 1996. All other parties have been established from within Parliament, and it has proven incredibly difficult for other new parties to establish and survive. After all it's not easy to win an electorate seat, and to make it to the 5% MMP threshold requires about 125,000 votes. And, now, with Dotcom's party for Monday night cancelled, there will be many people with less confidence in the whole venture.

One commentator who believes Dotcom could succeed is Chris Trotter, and he has written two very positive items about the potential for the Internet Party to win 5%. Trotter's column, Dotcom's Megaparty of serious fun, emphasises the generational aspect of the Dotcom party's appeal: 'Its electoral base will be the generation born into the internet age: young New Zealanders in their late teens and early twenties; tech savvy, media wise, eager to make their mark but frustrated by an older, baby- boom, generation which refuses to make way for those best-placed to deal with the daunting challenges and changes of the digital age'.

He points out that last year, 'there were 333,840 New Zealanders aged 20-24 - more than enough to surmount the 5 per cent MMP threshold. A huge number of these young people are conveniently concentrated on the nation's campuses - making the universities and polytechs Megaparty's prime recruitment sites'.

Trotter's second blog post, Showtime! Thinking About Kim Dotcom's, draws parallels between the Internet Party and political contemporaries around the world: 'If Dotcom has been studying the Italian examples, especially Grillo's Five Star Movement (which won 25 percent of the popular vote in last year's Italian general election) then he will understand that the fuel which fires such electoral phenomena is the disillusionment - bordering on hatred - which voters (especially young voters) feel towards the political class. These professional politicians, who seem to speak a language and act in accordance with a belief system which is quite foreign to ordinary people, remain coldly unmoved by the demands of democratic majorities. They may be members of different political parties, but the policies which they espouse are almost all variations on the same neoliberal and profoundly undemocratic themes'.

Trotter concludes that 'If Dotcom is able to combine these three elements: popular mistrust of the political class; an unmediated means of communicating with the masses; and carefully staged opportunities for cathartic political release; then he has every chance of polling well above the 5 percent MMP threshold'.

Rightwing blog Roar Prawn asserts that 'there is a serious possibility that after the next election - Key maybe sitting down thrashing out a coalition with DotCom. Wonder who will be sweating then?' - see: Internetting the dotty commos. She explains why a Dotcom party can connect with Generation Y voters: 'These digital natives distrust everything and they hate most the things which impinge their ability to move around on the net sucking up what the want when they want at the least cost.... He is seen by the GenYers as the man who is fighting against big business, what they see as Big Brother Governments and fighting for freedom in their new digital playground... He is a hero they can identify with, a victim of tyranny, a winner, a master of the digital universe and irreverent. GenY struggles to take anything really seriously unless its something that impinges on what they see as their freedoms. So they revere him. They see him as the only one who is fighting for their freedom on the net - the place they are most at home'

Technology writer Tom Pullar-Strecker also sees the possibility of success for the party and makes the following forecast for 2014: 'Kim Dotcom's new party wins between 3 and 7 per cent of the party vote in the November election after stunning pundits by polling strongly immediately after its launch' - see: Predicting the tech year ahead.

Not everyone is convinced of course. Gordon Campbell has written a very thoughtful blogpost today discussing many aspects of the Dotcom party - see: On Dotcom, and recent events at Scoop. He admits that Dotcom has a chance: 'Dotcom certainly has the resources and contacts to wheel in hip hop /EDM artists who would get the attention of young voters way beyond the capacity of Labour and the Greens'. But ultimately Campbell is distinctly unimpressed with Dotcom's chances: 'Because so much of the Internet Party looks like a toy and vanity project for Dotcom, the likelihood is that such a party will function - at best - as only a voter recruitment vehicle that by mid year, will have lost its ability to amuse Dotcom. Especially if and when the polls are indicating by then that the Internet Party hasn't a hope of (a) winning a seat or (b) reaching the 5% mark that would make its "kingmaker" role anything more than delusionary. At which point, Dotcom may think that he can throw his imagined legions behind Labour or the Greens. If that's Plan B, he's dreaming. The likelihood is that the only lesson that Dotcom will have given to the kids of south Auckland is the one that they've already sussed out : never trust a politician'.

Danyl Mclauchlan also thinks it will be less than successful: 'My gut feeling is that people aren't going to give votes to a foreign national with a past history of criminal convictions who is facing extradition to stand trial in the US. But Dotcom's formidable intellect and vast fortune make him highly unpredictable. I think he might take votes off the Green Party? Maybe? And maybe younger male National voters who think reducing World of Warcraft server latency is an important policy? But my best guess is that he'll get less than 0.5%' - see: Microparties.

To have a chance at getting to 5%, the Internet Party is going to have to make a big impact when it launches properly or it will end up being cursed with the 'wasted vote' syndrome which scares off voters, afraid that their party vote will be wasted - especially when the race for government looks to be close. Without a strong first impression and showing in early opinion polls, the party will be doomed. No doubt there have been plenty of high profile individuals approached to run as candidates. For example, Wallace Chapman has revealed that he was approached - see Rachel Glucina's Summer Diary, and Russell Brown was also 'sounded out' - see: Crashing the party before it starts.

2) What will the Internet Party stand for?

What are Kim Dotcom's politics and ideological leanings? What will his party campaign on? What would it do in Parliament? What type of government would it support? These are some of the important questions about the political nature of the Internet Party.

Many are assuming that the party will be broadly leftwing. For one of the best discussions on this, see Carrie Stoddart-Smith's blogpost, Kim Dotcom: Left or Right?. She looks at the reasons many are viewing the new party as being leftwing, and then plausibly refutes each one. For example, she dismisses the involvement of leftwing blogger Martyn Bradbury, saying that 'any anti-capitalist blogger that gleefully teams up politically with a capitalist who is part of the 1% the anti-capitalist despises, does not indicate alignment to the left for the party. It indicates a hypocritical blogger'. According to Karl du Fresne, Bradbury's involvement is more about personal self-aggrandisement, and he argues that Bradbury is just another in a long line of leftwing activists who has sold out for the money - see: Dotcom and Bradbury: a match made in heaven - or should that be hell?.

For further ideas about what the Internet Party might stand for in terms of policies, see Gordon Campbell's On Dotcom, and recent events at Scoop. He says, 'Dotcom intends to focus almost exclusively upon Internet freedoms. In doing so, he seems willing to outsource the boring old political stuff - you know, like having a credible health policy or economic policy - to Labour and the Greens. If so, he cannot hope to have much pull with the libertarian, National leaning voters who might share his zeal for Internet freedom'. But perhaps more significantly, Campbell discusses what electoral impact Dotcom could have: 'Dotcom has the potential to split the existing anti-Key, centre left vote - in much the same way that Ralph Nader did in the 2000 US election - without either winning an electorate or crossing the 5% barrier, nationwide. If so, a significant share of the centre left vote would be wasted'.

Wallace Chapman has also been quoted detailing what he's discovered about Dotcom's plans: 'Some big issues he wants to push are our spy laws, the role of the Government Communications Security Bureau in our society and in our country, and the way that our fibre connectivity is woefully outdated' - see Rachel Glucina's Summer Diary.

There are further glimpses of policy in Duncan Greive's very good Guardian feature, Kim Dotcom: 'I'm not a pirate, I'm an innovator'. For example, Dotcom talks about his plans to 'create tech jobs by creating the right environment for companies to come here and establish a presence in New Zealand'.

Even the Internet Party's logo is being examined for ideological clues - for example, one article says, 'The logo's colours appear to be deliberately neutral from a traditional Left-Right perspective, comprising white text against a purple background' - see Stuff's Activist linked to Dotcom's Internet Party. Dan Satherley also looks at the party's branding in Kim Dotcom unveils the Internet Party.

Is the party relatively apolitical? Indeed, is it primarily an attempt by Dotcom to avoid extradition? Cameron Slater puts forward that argument: 'Sources tell me that his plan is to upset the election so that he can never be extradited, believing that the Labour party would be far more sympathetic to him than National. Using money to influence an election to buy yourself an outcome to a legal problem is called what readers?' - see: The Internet Party strategy revealed.

Finally, as is appropriate for an Internet Party, there has been plenty of lighthearted and/or insightful analysis on Twitter - see my blog post Top tweets about Dotcom's new Internet Party.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

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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