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Kim Dotcom, Maori nationalist: The world's least likely political bedfellows?

By Tim Hume, CNN
updated 2:51 AM EDT, Sat May 31, 2014
German web tycoon Kim Dotcom and Maori nationalist Hone Harawira have been labeled a political odd couple.
German web tycoon Kim Dotcom and Maori nationalist Hone Harawira have been labeled a political odd couple.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kim Dotcom's political party has formed an alliance with a Maori nationalist's party
  • The alliance is seen in New Zealand as an unlikely political marriage of convenience
  • The move will give both parties a better chance of winning seats in elections in September
  • The U.S. is seeking to extradite German-born Dotcom on criminal digital piracy charges

(CNN) -- The New Zealand political party founded by German Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom has joined forces with a firebrand Maori activist, in what is being described as one of the world's most unlikely political marriages of convenience.

"It's a very unusual alliance... It's like Mark Zuckerberg getting into alliance with Fidel Castro," political scientist Bryce Edwards, of the University of Otago, told CNN. "The individuals involved are larger than life and dynamic people, but their ideological backgrounds are pretty disparate."

The Internet-Mana Party alliance between Dotcom's recently-formed Internet Party and the left-wing, indigenous-focused Mana Party was announced Thursday by Mana's leader, the controversial Maori nationalist MP Hone Harawira.

"It's completely new ground, but politics is about the art of the possible and I'm looking forward to what we can achieve," Harawira, seated next to the Internet Party's chief executive Vikram Kumar, told reporters.

Dotcom, the controversial founder of the shuttered file-sharing site Megaupload, cannot personally run for office as he is not a citizen of his adopted home of New Zealand.

The wealthy Web entrepreneur, who is battling extradition to the U.S. on criminal digital piracy charges, launched his party in January, with a pledge to focus on Internet privacy and government surveillance, and to make politics exciting.

It's like Mark Zuckerberg getting into alliance with Fidel Castro
Bryce Edwards, political scientist

Critics, including New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, have described Dotcom's political activities as part of an attempt to protect himself against U.S. extradition efforts.

But Harawira said the issue of whether Mana would support Dotcom's efforts to remain in New Zealand had "not even come up once" in discussions. "It's not a matter on the table at all."

'Gaming the system'

Bryce said the alliance represented an attempt by the two political minnows "to game the electoral system and help each other get their politicians into parliament" at the general elections in September.

Under New Zealand's proportional voting system, a party must win either an electorate seat or at least 5% of the nationwide vote to get into parliament -- a situation that hindered new parties, said Edwards, because potential supporters feared their vote would be wasted.

But if Harawira retained his electorate seat, it would remove the need for the party to cross the 5% threshold, and both parties could expect their share of the national vote to count towards a representative share of seats in the 120-member parliament.

Individually, both parties are currently polling at about 1%, said Edwards, but he tipped the buzz around the new alliance would see it fare better in the September vote, where it could stand to win in the order of six seats. "New Zealanders like to see outsiders having a go," he said. "The sum of the whole is going to be greater than the two parts."

Odd couple

It's completely new ground, but politics is about the art of the possible
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira

The two parties make strange bedfellows, apparently sharing little common ground beyond their opposition to the current center-right National government.

"On the two issues these parties are principally known for, Internet freedom and Maori nationalism, there doesn't seem to be any crossover whatsoever," said Edwards. "They're quite different versions of anti-establishment. One's an urban, middle-class, tech version, the other's more traditional left-wing, almost anti-capitalist."

Harawira, the son of a veteran Maori radical, has a long history of strident Maori activism and is seen as a figure of the far-left.

He has been a polarizing presence in parliament since he was elected in a seat reserved for Maori voters in 2005, criticized for remarks perceived as racist against white New Zealanders, and for calling for an opposition leader to be shot.

He eventually split with the Maori Party in 2011 over their support of the government. His new party, Mana, was established primarily as a vehicle to represent the interests of indigenous New Zealanders but also attracted support from non-Maori left-wing activists.

Dotcom's political tendencies are less well-known. He has previously made a NZ$50,000 ($42,792) donation to a right-wing New Zealand politician at the opposite end of the political spectrum to Mana, but the yet-to-be announced leader of the Internet Party, who will be named on Thursday, is somebody Harawira says he can work with.

Internet Party chief executive Kumar said the two parties would retain their separate policies, and acknowledged his party was providing the bulk of the financial backing to the alliance.

'Big mistake'

Sucking up to a German millionaire is not in my future
Departing Mana member Sue Bradford

Harawira's decision to team with Dotcom's party has already drawn criticism.

One of the Mana Party's founding members, the left-wing activist and former lawmaker Sue Bradford, quit the party over the move, which she labeled a "big mistake."

"Sucking up to a German millionaire is not in my future," she told reporters. "There's no way I can continue to be in a party where we are all really just the political plaything of a millionaire Internet mogul."

Harawira's former party has also attacked the move, with Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell telling CNN affiliate TVNZ that "utilizing Maori seats to drag in somebody who is questionable about their knowledge about things Maori... it's not on."

READ MORE: Dotcom released on bail

READ MORE: Dotcom on his new file-sharing site

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