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

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
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 Internet Party and the left-wing, indigenous-focused Mana Party was announced 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.
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.
Edwards said he tipped the buzz around the alliance could see it fare well in the September vote. "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
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.