Kim Dotcom's party poised to win New Zealand seats

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Kim Dotcom's party poised to win New Zealand seats
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, top left, appears via video link from London as international human rights lawyer Laila Harre, bottom left, Robert Amsterdam, second left, journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, second right and projected top right, and Kim Dotcom, right, attend a political forum at a town hall in Auckland, New Zealand Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. Dotcom says he has not become politically active for his own sake, but in response to the New Zealanders who have supported him since his dramatic 2012 arrest, in which dozens of armed officers stormed his mansion. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
Journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, left, and Kim Dotcom attend a political forum at Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. Dotcom says he has not become politically active for his own sake, but in response to the New Zealanders who have supported him since his dramatic 2012 arrest, in which dozens of armed officers stormed his mansion. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, top, appears via video link from London as international human rights lawyer Laila Harre, bottom left, Robert Amsterdam, second left, journalist and author Glenn Greenwald, second right, and Kim Dotcom, right, attend a political forum in Auckland, New Zealand, Town Hall, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. Dotcom says he has not become politically active for his own sake, but in response to the New Zealanders who have supported him since his dramatic 2012 arrest, in which dozens of armed officers stormed his mansion. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
In this Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 photo, indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, center, speaks at a political rally, in Wellington, New Zealand. The Internet Mana Party that Dotcom is funding appears likely to win two or three seats in New Zealand's Parliament when the nation goes to the polls Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
In this Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 photo, indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom speaks at a political rally, in Wellington, New Zealand. The Internet Mana Party that Dotcom is funding appears likely to win two or three seats in New Zealand's Parliament when the nation goes to the polls Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
Internet millionaire Kim Dotcom leaves afterthe Intelligence and Security select committee hearing at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, Wednesday July 3, 2013. Dotcom is the founder of the once-popular file-sharing site Megaupload, which was shut down by U.S. authorities last year. Before his arrest last year, New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau spied on Dotcom, an action later found by a New Zealand court to be unlawful. (AP Photo\New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
FILE - In this July 3, 2013 file photo, Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom speaks during the Intelligence and Security select committee hearing at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. The political party launched in New Zealand by indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom is joining forces with another small party that advocates for the nation's indigenous Maori. The Internet Party and the Mana Party on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, announced a new party — called Internet Mana — saying the alliance will enhance their chances in September's general election. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell, File) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
Indicted Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom appears on a large screen during the launch of a new file-sharing website called "Mega" at his Coatesville mansion in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The colorful entrepreneur unveiled the site ahead of a lavish gala and press conference on the anniversary of his arrest on racketeering charges related to his now-shuttered Megaupload file-sharing site. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Richard Robinson) New Zealand Out, Australia Out
Indicted Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom holds a press conference ahead of the launch of a new file-sharing website called "Mega" at his Coatesville mansion in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The colorful entrepreneur unveiled the site ahead of a lavish gala and press conference on the one-year anniversary of his arrest on racketeering charges related to his now-shuttered Megaupload file-sharing site. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Richard Robinson) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
Indicted Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, center, poses with women during the launch of a new file-sharing website called "Mega" at his Coatesville mansion in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. The colorful entrepreneur unveiled the site ahead of a lavish gala and press conference on the one-year anniversary of his arrest on racketeering charges related to his now-shuttered Megaupload file-sharing site. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Richard Robinson) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2012 file photo, Kim Dotcom, the founder of the file-sharing website Megaupload, comments after he was granted bail and released in Auckland, New Zealand. In the eyes of New Zealand immigration authorities in 2010, Kim Dotcom's money trumped his criminal past. Documents released to The Associated Press this week under New Zealand public records laws show that immigration officials granted the Megaupload founder residency that year after deciding the money he could bring to the country outweighed concern about criminal convictions in his native Germany for computer fraud and stock-price manipulation. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Brett Phibbs, File) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
Kim Dotcom addresses the crowd
Kim Dotcom large man with white beanie sharing a joke with Clare Curran MP (centre) New Zealand Labour Party Spokesperson.
Mega Upload founder Kim Dotcom being interviewed during the TVNZ Funeral March to protest the closure of TVNZ7
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By NICK PERRY
Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- At a recent political rally in Wellington, indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom jokingly asked members of New Zealand's spy agency to raise their hands.

"Please don't worry," he said, to rising laughter and applause. "Even though we are going to shut you down, we will find you guys new jobs."

Dotcom has been drawing large, enthusiastic crowds on the campaign trail, even as he fights extradition attempts by the U.S. on racketeering charges over his now-shuttered file-sharing site Megaupload. He can't run for office because he's not a New Zealand citizen, but he has poured more than 3 million New Zealand dollars ($2.44 million) into a small party that is on target to win two or three of the 120 seats in the Parliament when the nation goes to the polls Saturday.

The Internet Mana party is attracting younger voters by promising to deliver free higher education, cut the price of Internet access, fight mass surveillance, decriminalize marijuana and protect native dolphins. But Dotcom may fall short of one of his main goals: getting center-right Prime Minister John Key voted out of office.

Polls indicate that Key remains popular and is likely to win a third three-year term, though that would be in jeopardy if opposition parties such as Dotcom's gain more than half the parliamentary seats and form a coalition.

Megaupload was a popular file-hosting site before the federal government shut it down in 2012. Dotcom, who spent a month in jail in New Zealand before being released on bail, has since created another service called Mega.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Dotcom, 40, of facilitating the widespread piracy of songs and movies. Dotcom, who was born Kim Schmitz in Germany, argues that he can't be held responsible for those who chose to use his site to illegally download material.

On Monday, five days before the election, Dotcom is promising a theatrical finale: an expose on New Zealand's spying activities, the truthfulness of Key, and "the sordid workings of Hollywood." He's booked Auckland's Town Hall, where he says he'll be joined by American journalist Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the latter via video link from London.

Key has said Dotcom's political aspirations are a cynical attempt to thwart the justice system and avoid extradition. A political appointee, the justice minister, is required to give final approval to any extradition proceeding.

Dotcom says he has not become politically active for his own sake, but in response to the New Zealanders who have supported him since his dramatic 2012 arrest, in which dozens of armed officers stormed his mansion.

"Since I'm here anyway, and I can't go anywhere," he said at the Wellington rally last month, "I might as well use this for something to give back."

Dotcom founded the Internet Party, which in May joined forces with the Mana Movement, a party rooted in giving indigenous Maori a political voice and fighting for the rights of the poor.

The merger between a wealthy entrepreneur and grassroots activists appeared odd to many, but from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, it made sense: Dotcom had the money to bankroll a big campaign, while Mana had the support to win seats in the Parliament, thanks to the popularity of leader Hone Harawira.

At the rally, Victoria University of Wellington student Estelle Geach, 21, said she and a friend saw the event promoted on Facebook. She said she found Internet Party leader Laila Harre inspirational after hearing her on the radio.

"And I was drawn by the huge personality of Kim Dotcom," Geach said. "I wanted to see him in the flesh after seeing him on the news so many times."

But some say Dotcom's unusual campaign has backfired by helping Key consolidate support among moderate voters.

John Armstrong, chief political commentator for the New Zealand Herald, said Dotcom had to deliver Monday to maintain his credibility.

"If tonight exposes Dotcom as nothing more than a ... charlatan who has attempted to hijack the electoral system, then the public backlash could be withering," Armstrong wrote.

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