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Is the Dotcom Party democratic enough to be registered?

S71 of the  states:

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  is structured is so all its assets are kept in a shell company ( 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  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.

Comments and questions

I'm just wondering if a thumb written signature on a cell phone is the same in law as the hand written signature of a real human. Unlike some countries, there is no obligation to provide any sort of identification when purchasing a SIM card in NZ and thus an action on a cell phone falls short of establishing identity. I have heard that the Internet Party app does require full access to contacts lists, photography functions and by extension maybe even bank account passwords , but would it require this ancillary information gleaned from the phone to satisfy the Electoral Commission oas to the authenticity of the membership?

The Internet Party app asks for access to personal information only when a person chooses to use Facebook to login as that information is provided by the Facebook API. In any case, please have a look at the Privacy Policy which is both on the website and on the apps menu.

Identity and eligibility are checked by the Electoral Commission which satisfies itself that a party has at least 500 valid members eligible to vote in New Zealand before registering it. This is done off the declaration from the website or app.

Vikram Kumar
Internet Party Chief Executive

And if the Electoral Commission tried to query the registerability of the IP on such grounds it would be seen for what it would be: contrived nit-icking at the behest of a political establishment, of left and right, that is running scared of a truly new look in NZ politics.
Democratic endorsement of the IP's rules is implicit in the free choice of its members to join, and in joining, accept those rules. Should the membership become unhappy with the rules or their interpretation, they are free to resign, and if enough do, to bring the party under the registration threshold.
What too, of the ultimate democratic test - the Election?

Frankly, comments in the article about whether the Electoral Commission will or will not register the Internet Party's rules are pure FUD (i.e. spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). The rules have been drafted by very competent lawyers who have ensured that all legal requirements are met.

Vikram Kumar
Internet Party Chief Executive

National are obviously very worried about the impact that the internet party could have,given the way all their supporters are rallying to their support.
It would be interesting to know just what they are trying to hide?

What a small minded,nit-picking article!
What we want is not this,but focus on substantive issues.

All just techy stuff David. All he needs to do is scare the Greens enough so they promise to cancel his extradition. And it looks like he has already achieved that goal.

I am starting to think that the 'establishment' may indeed be getting just a little bit rattled by all this. It appears to me that they have unleashed the attack dogs, by way of their house bloggers, to tear Dotcom apart. If the tide of sympathy were to turn slightly in favor of the underdog, they could well find themselves in the middle of a mine-field.

John Key and the National Party are in fact far worse as he/they propose removing the union jack (Something the Author of Mein Kampf would agree with).

We shall have our say election day

Neither John Key or the National Party has proposed removing the union Jack. They have just offered us a referendum on whether we retain or change our flag. Personally I would like a flag that doesn't look like the Australian flag. I am pretty relaxed about whether that flag includes the union jack or not.
It can certainly be argued that National have put up a smoke screen for this election but I have not seen where they have voiced an opinion on how people should vote in the referendum.