New Zealand’s election campaign has been bitter and bizarre, unable to shake off the long shadows cast by an internet mogul and a blogger. Opinion polls suggest Prime Minister John Key’s National Party may cling to power after the real polls close on Saturday night, but it will be close. If Mr Key prevails for the centre-right, he will have overcome allegations of government dirty tricks – based on the hacked emails of burly blogger Cameron Slater, aka Whale Oil, that resulted in Justice Minister Judith Collins being forced to resign from cabinet. And a feud with German giant Kim Dotcom meant Mr Key, 53 and a fellow self-made multimillionaire, had to spend much of this week batting away claims that the nation’s GCSB spy agency is engaged in mass surveillance of its citizens. Mr Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US to face internet piracy charges, hosted an event in Auckland on Monday featuring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (both via video link), as well as US investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald to assert the spying allegations.
We’re in the final few days of an election campaign that has had it all – comedy, conspiracy and claims of dirty politics – though none of it has dented New Zealand National Prime Minister John Key’s chances of winning a third term in power. The predictions market puts 80% odds on a National prime minister after this Saturday’s election. For those tuning in late to what has been a dramatic and sometimes bizarre campaign, here’s just a taste of what you’ve missed. A German internet entrepreneur wanted for extradition by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Kim Dotcom, blows NZ$3.5 million to set up a political party with the hope of taking down the Prime Minister. He flies in Pulitzer prize-winner Glenn Greenwald to allege that the NZ government conducts mass cyber-surveillance of its citizens. Unable to stand for office himself as he isn’t a citizen, Dotcom makes a pre-electoral pact with a Maori MP (Hone Harawira, Mana Party) to give his Internet Party something more than a nag’s chance. Meanwhile, an investigative journalist unleashes scandal after scandal by publishing hacked emails from the right-wing blogger behind a site called Whale Oil.
Think twice before taking an election selfie with your ballot paper – you could be breaking the law. The advance voting period began this week, and already early bird voters are sweeping social media, posting photos of themselves at the polling booth. Among them were Labour leader David Cunliffe, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, and Internet-Mana benefactor Kim Dotcom. Others, including Labour MP Trevor Mallard, have shared photos of their completed ballot papers, prompting warnings they risked falling foul of the Electoral Act. Internet-Mana leader Laila Harre tweeted yesterday: “Reminder that it’s against electoral law to post pics of your ballot paper.” The Electoral Commission advised candidates and supporters to exercise caution when it came to publishing or distributing material that included a ballot paper. This particularly applied to social media where material could be shared, reshared or reposted on election day.
Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom holds court while bathing in the pool of a sprawling New Zealand mansion, fist bumping and chatting with some of the 700 guests gathered to celebrate the political party he launched last month to promote Internet freedom. His latest ultra-encrypted file storage site, Mega, will soon go public after a deal that values it at NZ$210 million ($180 million), and Baboom, an online streaming music service designed to bypass record companies, is nearing its hard launch. In Dotcom’s alternate universe, he is fighting extradition from his adopted country to the United States, where the hulking 40-year-old stands accused of massive copyright infringement related to the Megaupload file sharing site he founded in 2005.