Spicing up politics

Starting a political party in New Zealand can be a fraught process, as Kim Dotcom recently found out. After promoting the party launch to end all party launches, Mr Dotcom was forced to cancel the launch after communication with the Electoral Commission.

It became obvious the internet entrepreneur seemed ready to flaunt New Zealand's electoral laws on treating. Put simply, if prospective voters are provided with anything remotely approaching ''treats'', the party in question faces huge penalties.

Amazingly, the PartyParty, to be held by Mr Dotcom, was covered in various forms of media without anyone picking up on the treating problem, until it started trending on Twitter.

Within two days, the narrative had changed from the launch of a political party to the launch of Mr Dotcom's new album and to celebrate his birthday. But the damage had been done and the party was cancelled.

This election year has started with much more interest than many others in the past. Conservative leader Colin Craig, apparently on advice of political consultants, admitted publicly to smacking his children - immediately causing outrage in the community.

The anti-smacking legislation was supported by Prime Minister John Key, despite it being proposed by former Green MP Sue Bradford.

National had to be seen to support a measure which was aimed at reducing violence towards children, even if many MPs privately believed the State should be kept out of the home.

Mr Craig is independently wealthy and can afford to fund an election campaign, as can Mr Dotcom, who has already played a pivotal role in New Zealand's political landscape.

It was Mr Dotcom who donated to Act New Zealand MP John Banks' failed mayoral campaign. Mr Banks could not remember the donations and now faces a court appearance later this year.

The Epsom MP will not stand this year and National stands to lose a coalition partner if Act cannot drag itself off the canvas.

Interestingly, the launch of Mr Dotcom's Internet Party was through a leak on prominent right-wing blog Whaleoil. Whaleoil, or Cameron Slater, put up the draft plan for the party which showed Scoop founder and journalist Alistair Thompson was working for the party, a breach of press gallery rules.

The blogger said Mr Thompson was the party's secretary and had registered the domain name. After the claim, Mr Thompson resigned from Scoop.

The author of the leaked document, blogger and former Mana Party political adviser Martyn Bradbury stressed it was an early draft of a possible strategy. Part of the strategy was to provide free Wi-Fi in an electorate, a clear breach of the treating rules.

Mr Dotcom cannot run for Parliament because he is not a New Zealand citizen. He is also fighting extradition to the United States on charges relating to his former internet activities.

His profile within New Zealand is large because of the raids on his Coatsville mansion, his largesse when it comes to hosting events in Auckland and, now, his attempt to become the balance of power within Parliament after the election.

Mr Dotcom says his party will be neither left nor right. Instead, it will be ''up''. He has the money and charisma to attract some of the disaffected 800,000 voters said not to have taken part in the last election.

If he concentrates his attention in Auckland, particularly the new seat created from boundary changes, a fascinating contest will merge.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has put her hand up to be National's candidate, Mr Craig must be considering standing in the electorate - unless National does a deal with him in a National-held seat in the eastern suburbs - and the Internet Party will have Mr Dotcom's backing.

Concerningly, the lead-up to the botched launch of the Internet Party saw favourable articles appear on Scoop and Mr Bradbury's blog.

Media need to be seen as impartial and the danger seems that in the quest to be first with the news, some standards have been dropped. Journalists often flit between reporting on politicians and working for them. Anything less than a declaration of interests is unacceptable.


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