Is the Dotcom Party democratic enough to be registered?
Every political party that is for the time being registered under this Part shall ensure that provision is made for participation in the selection of candidates representing the party for election as members of Parliament by—
(a)current financial members of the party who are or would be entitled to vote for those candidates at any election; or
(b)delegates who have (whether directly or indirectly) in turn been elected or otherwise selected by current financial members of the party; or
(c)a combination of the persons or classes of persons referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b).
Now there have been some court cases over this part, and the requirement to be democratic is not specific. It doesn’t rule out a party’s board having a veto on the basis that the board is elected by the members or their delegates.
However having just been reading the Electoral Law in NZ textbook by Andrew Geddis (it was my relaxing reading on the Milford Track – yes seriously!) the requirement does not mean there is no obligation at all, and Russell Brown has provided a quick analysis of the Internet Party rules:
1. There is a special role called ‘party visionary.’ This is defined as Kim Dotcom, or a person selected by Kim Dotcom. THis visionary has the automatic right to sit and vote on the party’s executive and policy committee and cannot be kicked out by the membership.
2. To stand for election to the party’s executive, in addition to being nominated by current members of the party you’ve got to be nominated by a current member of the National Executive. This locks in the incumbents.
3. The party’s executive has nearly unfettered control over the list: they put together an initial list, send it out to the membership to vote on, and then they ultimately decide what the final list should be having regard to the member’s choices.
4. The national executive chooses who stands in what electorate. No local member input at all.
5. The party secretary has a very important role (eg they get to solely arbitrate over disputes; they set out the process for amending the constitution, they decide the process for electing office holders; they’re a voting member of the National Executive). The only problem is they’re legally an employee of the party’s shell company, meaning that it is very hard for the members to exercise democratic control over the secretary (you can’t just fire an employee).
6. On a related note: the way the Internet Party is structured is so all its assets are kept in a shell company (Internet Party Assets Inc), away from the party itself. I don’t know what the purpose of this one was TBH. (the rules of this company were meant to be attached to the constitution in a schedule, but as far as I can see they’re not there)
The full rules are here.
They key thing is the combination of the second and fourth point. The members have no ability to change the National Executive and the Executive selects electorate candidates with no input from members. I believe that the combination of those two aspects raises a serious case for the Electoral Commission to consider that the Internet Party does not meet the democratic requirement of S71 of the Electoral Act.
Other parties (including National) have strong National Executives that can have a final say in candidate selections. However those Executives are able to be voted out by the party grassroots if the members are not happy with them.
With the Internet Party, Dotcom effectively appoints the inaugural Executive Committee. The founders are the inaugural members of the Internet Party Assets Inc.
Clause 8.13.2 requires all nominations to future Executive Committees to be nominated by a member of the current Executive Committee. That means they can block ordinary members standing. It’s not dissimilar to the old politburo elections – anyone can stand as long as you are approved by the current leadership.
So the Electoral Commission may need to determine if the Internet Party is democratic enough to be registered as a political party. It is definitely arguable it is not. Basically the founders can maintain permanent and total control of the party by not agreeing to nominate anyone else to join the Executive Committee. And the Executive Committee makes all the selection decisions.
Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.