Photo by Flickr user Errol Cavit
The 2014 New Zealand election has been overrun by grubby scandals, mass surveillance accusations, hackers, bloggers, spies, political black ops, indigenous Maori radicals, and a larger-than-life German internet millionaire by the name of Kim Dotcom.
New Zealand, with its population of just under 4.5 million, has never seen anything like it.
Unsurprisingly these ructions are causing consternation among the political and media classes. The six year honeymoon period given to centre-right Prime Minister John Key by the mainstream press was interrupted last month by the release of the blockbuster book by investigative journalist, Nicky Hagar. Hitting shelves months out from the election, Dirty Politics detailed thousands of hacked emails between far-right blogger, Cameron Slater, and the highest echelons of the ruling National Party.
To make things even more salacious, the hacker who obtained the emails—an individual called Rawshark—set up a Twitter account called Whaledump and proceeded to drip feed the uncensored emails onto the internet. This is not the sort of thing that usually happens in the Shire of the South Pacific, and the locals aren't sure who to pitchfork and burn first.
Hager's book makes for grim reading. Blackmailing an MP into standing down as leader of a political party, trawling brothels for sleaze on journalists, hacking into the Labour Party server and downloading their entire database, rigging candidate selections, attacking public servants, gaining Secret Intelligence Service information to embarrass opponents of the government, and a concerted effort to undermine and attack the head of the Serious Fraud Office are but some of tactics allegedly employed by the National Party through their erstwhile attack blogger, Cameron Slater.
It gets weirder. The backdrop to this current political self-mutilation has been the ongoing extradition case against Kim Dotcom.
To understand the Dotcom situation, it’s helpful to look at the geopolitical pressures being applied. As the Pacific quickly becomes the cold war friction point between America and China, both are exerting their influence to guarantee economic and cultural dominance. While China has quickly become New Zealand’s largest trade partner, America is attempting to force what some see as a draconian free trade deal called the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). America doesn't care if New Zealanders buy their flatscreen TVs from China, they care that we watch their shows, their culture, their values and their economic hegemony. This is the expansion of soft power by a Corporate Hollywood who have managed to have their profit margins elevated to a national security strategy.
Which brings us to Kim Dotcom.
Dotcom became a symbol of all that was threatening the intellectual property dominance of Corporate Hollywood, his Megaupload site had 50 million daily visits and accounted for about 4 percent of total internet traffic. Dotcom's success was a threat to Hollywood's business model—enough of a threat to be made an example of. Days after Hollywood’s chief lobbyist, former Democrat Senator Chris Dodd, threatened to withhold donations for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, the White House launched their legal action against Kim Dotcom.
While this was happening, Kim Dotcom was applying for residency in New Zealand. After being told to back off from investigating his application because of political pressure, Kim was granted residency by the Immigration department. He was promptly illegally surveilled by NZs spy agency, the GCSB who had green lighted an FBI operation aimed at arresting and extraditing Dotcom to America to face money laundering charges.
Unfortunately for America and New Zealand officials, Kim had the money to fight back, winning a series of legal battles that also generated evidence that the Government had illegally spied on him and many other NZ nationals. The Government’s response to being caught peeping was to ram through a deeply controversial law in 2013 that legalised the spying. Critics have since claimed the law also opened New Zealand up to legalised mass surveillance.
Dotcom's defenders point to a paper trail that suggests NZ officials at the highest level colluded with US officials to entrap Kim by approving his application for residency. The Government's counter to these allegations was denial, name calling, and ridicule.
That ridicule was probably a bad idea. Based on his poor treatment by America and NZ, Dotcom launched both legal and political counter attacks. He set up the Internet Party, forming a tactical alliance with the Maori Nationalist Party, MANA. Due to the mechanics of the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system, they need only to gain one electorate seat to also receive a sub five per cent proportional representation in Parliament. That means the Internet MANA Party are almost certain to establish MPs at this Saturday’s election.
But if things weren’t looking bad enough for John Key and his National Party, then came Kim Dotcom’s much-anticipated ‘moment of truth’. At his party launch, Dotcom promised a ‘bombshell’ announcement at a campaign event. That announcement landed this week in a packed Auckland Town Hall where Dotcom, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Dotcom's lawyer Robert Amsterdam, Internet Party leader Laila Harre, and none other than NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, linked Prime Minister Key to a mass surveillance program.
They argued that a law Key claimed would protect New Zealanders, actually allowed a loophole that the NSA and GCSB both acknowledged would complete phase 2 of something called Operation Speargun. Operation Speargun was a 5 Eyes agreement between the NSA and GCSB to tap the Southern Cross cable which all of New Zealand's data flows through. This activity would come in advance of laws allowing mass metadata spying. The Prime Minister had previously made assurances that there was no mass surveillance in the pipeline and that he would resign if any was proven.
This started an intense bickering match with New Zealand mainstream journalists who were expecting Dotcom to reveal proof that Key had known about him prior to the date Key claimed. Dotcom withheld an email he claims comes from Warner Bros that shows they colluded with Key so that he can take it to Parliaments Privileges committee. The perverse journalistic priorities of New Zealand's media who decided to focus on Dotcom's decision to fight his case in Parliament while ignoring the mass surveillance evidence helped cement the perception that New Zealand's petty fourth estate has been asleep at the wheel while Key has run the country.
What occurred over the week after the Snowden revelations was an incredible back down and u-turn by Key that saw him take a different position every single day. He started with a declaration that there was 'no middle ground' and that he was right, Glenn Greenwald was wrong. It descended into name calling by the Prime Minister describing Greenwald as a 'henchman' and a 'loser' to finally admitting that Snowden may well be right about XKeyScore mass surveillance and played semantics by claiming while the GCSB didn't mass spy on New Zealanders, the NSA programs given the GCSB might do so.
To top things off, a bizarre incident occurred in the final days of the campaign when Eminem launched legal action to sue the National Government for unlawful use of 'Lose Yourself' for the National Party TV adverts. The irony of the Government being sued for copyright infringement while trying to extradite Kim Dotcom for it has been lost on no one.
Over 1000 people were turned away from the Town Hall this week, and hundreds of thousands watched the live stream. Will it make a difference at the election? We only have to wait until Saturday to find out.
Follow Martyn on Twitter: @CitizenBomber