Kim Dotcom works in mysterious ways. The ongoing saga of his Internet Party - which launches tomorrow - is one of great mystery and drama. Each step along the way has been riddled with controversy, and has sometimes been incomprehensible to observers. Each time Dotcom makes political news it's hard to decide what lies behind the scenes - is it genius, megalomania or incompetence?
The latest strange chapter, which appears to have now closed, was the opportunity for an electoral alliance with Hone Harawira's Mana Party. This was Dotcom's ticket to electoral success, but he appears to have allowed the opportunity to slip out of his hands, preferring to chase the 5% MMP threshold without help. It seems that the Internet Party is keener to confidently battle on by itself than yield to the needs of Harawira and his leftwing supporters.
What killed the Mana-Dotcom alliance?
At about 10pm last night, after a Mana Party Executive meeting, Hone Harawira issued a hardline response to Dotcom and the Internet Party, essentially closing the door - though not entirely - on further negotiations about an alliance. This is best covered by Vernon Small in Mana rules out Dotcom. However, Adam Bennett's Internet Party to respond to Mana demand suggests that Harawira's hardline approach was not received all that unfavourably by the Internet Party.
Mana is the Internet Party's most obvious MMP lifeline.
By joining together in some sort of short-term tactical electoral alliance, both parties might have gained through the use of Harawira's likely win of Te Tai Tokerau, thereby exempting the alliance from needing to cross the 5% MMP threshold to win list seats in Parliament.
But as Harawira says, Dotcom's unwillingness to rule out working with the National Party would be a deal breaker. If the Internet Party hedges its bets, perhaps wanting to see if they can clear the 5% threshold on their own, they may miss the opportunity. Mana wanted to move ahead to ascertain that the two partners would have compatible policies and personnel, which will take some time. If the Internet Party had launched in January as planned, then there might have been more substance to base some alliance on by now.
Why did the Mana Party want an alliance?
For most observers, the willingness of Mana to entertain any sort of alliance with Dotcom was bizarre. For the best account of the logic of such a deal for Mana can be found in John Armstrong's Harawira has little to lose in vote share deal. The key part is this: 'Mana really has nothing to lose. Patchy poll results suggest it will be doing well to get even one extra MP into Parliament to join Harawira, who may have a struggle himself in holding on to his Te Tai Tokerau seat. If Dotcom's party's presence was to boost the combined party's vote to, say, 6 per cent, that would give Mana up to four seats if the candidate list had equal representation from both component parties.... Dotcom is potentially offering Mana far more oomph in capturing votes in the general seats, rather than just the Maori ones'.
The Dominion Post has also been insightful about the Mana Party's strong desire to break out of its rut and become a bigger political player: 'Small parties need friends, and so maybe we shouldn't be surprised at Mana's flirtation with the Internet party. MP Hone Harawira has tried to broaden his appeal since he split with the Maori Party. He came up with Mana, a collection of brown and white radicals that got a little more than 1 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election. That was roughly what ACT got. In other words, the Mana experiment is not working and something else is required' - see: Parties make grotesque bedfellows. See also, Vernon Small's What's in it for Mana to side with Dotcom?.
Harawira's own executive assistant, Jevan Goulter provided a candid explanation of what Mana sees as the gains, posting on Facebook: 'it would obviously help MANA to! I'm not picking a side, just wanna be clear! The parties would not merge, we would share a list, and guaranteed MANA would have the top spots to start! If we did it, the difference could be 2 or 3 MANA MPs, and we remain our own party! It's not all doom and gloom ! Could be the difference of having say John Minto and Te Hamua Shane Nikora in the House!' - Goulter saw the downside as 'we would be helping a fat white rich prick with a bunch of money' - see David Farrar's The defence of the Mana Dotcom deal.
Some observers have assumed that Harawira was after a slice of Dotcom's supposed campaigning fortune, but this is refuted in Felix Marwick's Mana Party not that interested in Dotcom's cash.
The potential 'marriage of convenience' obviously carried its risks as well. As Danyl Mclauchlan pointed out, some potential voters for either side might be put off by the dalliance, and 'if the merger costs each party more than 50% of their potential voters because the complementary party is anathema to them then they'll go backwards' - see: Mana/Dotcom Huge Pros and Huge Cons.
For many there was too much of an ideological inconsistency between the two parties. This was especially the case for Mana activist Sue Bradford - see Brook Sabin's TV3 item, Dotcom-Mana decision expected after launch. Others agreed, such as No Right Turn - see: I don't see it either.
The risk of being seen to be 'gerrymandering' the system was also present - see the Herald's editorial, Mana-Internet union cynical step too far.
What's going on behind the scenes in the Internet Party?
The absolute must-read item of the week about the Internet Party is Jonathan Milne's Politicians of all stripes welcome at Kim's place. This in-depth feature provides a valuable glimpse into the seven party staff and what they are doing with the fledgling party.
There will continue to be huge interest when other personnel and candidates are eventually announced or uncovered. Speculation continues to surround the editor of Scoop Media - see Matthew Beveridge's The Internet Party and Alastair Thompson.
The political ideology of the party remains a mystery to most - which, of course, is part of the reason for Mana's reluctance to go any further with talks at the moment. It's unclear where the party stands on the left-right spectrum (or any other spectrum), and until policy is released and candidates announced, it will be hard to judge. Dotcom is quoted in the Milne article above, saying that 'The Internet Party is neither left nor right. It is not ideologically driven', but there are also further hints at both left and right leanings of those involved.
One of the surprise recruits to the staff of the organisation is veteran journalist and journalism tutor Jim Tucker, who is profiled in Helen Harvey's Media man takes on role with Dotcom. In terms of ideology, he is quoted as saying, 'The target demographic is 18 to 35, people who are disaffected with politics, people who have never voted, who are looking for something different. That's a good reason not to plant ourselves right or left or whatever. There's a strong feeling about not ruling out anyone along the spectrum'.
Speculation will mount if Dotcom remains reluctant to rule out working with National. Could it be that he wants to keep a negotiating option up his sleeve if the National Government has to make an extradition decision about him soon before the election? The more cynical will view it as Dotcom keeping his options open for his own personal survival in New Zealand.
The Technology of the Internet Party
One of the greatest potentials for surprise and making an impression will be the Internet Party's use of technology. Already we've seen the party innovate with its newly announced mobile app - see Adam Bennett's Dotcom's Internet Party app approved. The party's website (internet.org.nz) is not yet available, but will be of great interest at the launch tomorrow. The party also now has a Twitter presence (@InternetPartyNZ) and a Facebook page.
There will, no doubt, be plenty of internet-savvy innovations. Chris Keall reports that 'In keeping with the party's tech-friendly image, it will also accept membership payments in Bitcoin, and there will be a heavy social media marketing push' - see: Mana staffer lets rip about Kim Dotcom, the 'Fat rich white pr**k' (paywalled).
What will be more interesting is if the traditional functions for a party have a strong digital platform. Of course, the policy formulation process will almost certainly have a strong online mechanism, but what about candidate selection?
Also of interest, Chris Keall's article quotes party CEO Vikram Kumar as saying that Dotcom 'is an expert on technology, so all policies would be related to that in some way' and 'He's not saying technology was the answer to everything, but it was a big part of life'.
What chance does the Internet Party have of success?
If the Internet Party doesn't meet Mana's bottom lines , Dotcom will be gambling that he can make it to the 5% MMP threshold without help. It's far from clear whether his party is capable of this. Currently the iPredict website has the party forecast to win only 1% of the party vote. Economist Eric Crampton continues to make a calculated projection about possible, which seems to be getting incredibly complicated - see: DotMana.
We can expect that from tomorrow, Dotcom will be doing some serious media work. Already he's booked to appear in a live interview on TV3's The Nation on Saturday to give his first long-form interview, in which he will discuss his party's aspirations and tactics.
Dotcom appears to have strong confidence in his abilities. And he possibly thinks that the expenditure of large money on campaigning will help turn things around. But if in the few weeks after the big party launch the opinion polls don't show a major improvement in support, then expect Dotcom to go back to the search for electoral alliances. The problem for him, however, is that by then, the legal options for any sort of electoral alliance will be closing down quickly and Mana's negotiating position will be even stronger.
If Mana does agree to go back to the negotiating table, Mana insider Martyn Bradbury makes it very clear what sort of policies Harawira would be wanting from Dotcom - see: Confidence and supply bottom lines in Mana Movement-Internet Party Alliance.
It's hard to predict where things will go, but Russell Brown sums up the situation well in his blog post, The Internet Party, whatever happens, saying: 'But there's too much money and expertise behind this venture and, still, Dotcom star power to simply write off the Internet Party. If he can convince people he's serious, there's actually a constituency that will like the philosophical direction of the party's policies. More of this will become clear after Thursday's launch, but it seems fair to assume that at least some of what happens is going to be a bit mad'.
In line with this, Brian Rudman writes today that the Dotcom soap opera's latest season is best yet.
Finally, for humour and insight on the whole Dotcom Internet Party saga, see Cameron Slater's The Coalition, socialist activist/poet Don Franks' Virtual Politics of the Internet, and my blog post Top tweets about the Dotcom Internet Party's alliances.