Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, the German creator of the file sharing service Megaupload on the run from American authorities, failed in his bid to win a foothold in the New Zealand Parliament on Saturday, as voters returned the ruling National Party to power for a third consecutive three-year term.
Dotcom, who has lived in New Zealand since 2010, has fought extradition to the United States after being indicted on criminal copyright infringement, piracy and racketeering charges. He was arrested at his Auckland-area mansion in January 2012, but Kiwi courts have sided with him in extradition hearings.
The charges stem from Megaupload, the file-sharing company that U.S. authorities say cost the entertainment industry an estimated half a billion dollars before it was shut down in 2012.
Dotcom has feuded with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key since the arrest. Last year, Dotcom founded the Internet Party, allied with the Mana Party, a group dedicated to raising indigenous Maori out of poverty, to contest Key's center-right National Party.
On Monday, Dotcom held an event in Auckland with journalist Glenn Greenwald, at which Greenwald unveiled evidence that New Zealand's government conducted mass surveillance of its citizens, even as Key was denying that such a program existed. Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden wrote an op-ed laying out NSA spying on New Zealand residents for Greenwald's Web site, the Intercept. Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange both appeared at the event by video link.
But voters weren't in the mood to punish Key's government, and Dotcom's party couldn't catch on. The Internet/Mana alliance earned just 26,500 votes, or about 1.3 percent of those cast, and the only Mana Party member of Parliament, Hone Harawira, lost his seat in the far north of New Zealand's North Island.
On Saturday, Dotcom apologized to Mana Party voters and to Harawira, blaming what he called his own "poisoned" brand for the poor showing.
Key's National Party won just over 48 percent of the vote and 61 of Parliament's 120 seats. The country's mixed-member proportional voting system allows citizens to vote for a local member of Parliament and for a party at the national level; 50 seats in Parliament are allocated based on those national votes.
The opposition Labor Party received just under 25 percent of the vote, its lowest vote total since taking 24 percent in 1922. The left-leaning Green Party took 10 percent, with the populist anti-immigration New Zealand First Party taking 9 percent. The results were disappointing for Labor and the Green Party, Jennifer Curtin, an assistant professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, said in an e-mail. Both parties had expected better results.
Key has enjoyed strong personal popularity ratings after guiding New Zealand through the global recession, while voters expressed skepticism about the Labor Party's ability to lead. But the two-vote system makes a coalition government more likely, leading some voters to cast ballots for two different parties.
Key "has acquitted himself well over the last two terms and led the government through tricky financial times with some aplomb," Crawford Brown, who owns a winery near Cromwell on the South Island, said in an e-mail. "But we all realize that it is extremely likely that he can only govern with a coalition government." Before Election Day, Brown said he was considering voting for his local National Party member of Parliament and for the Maori Party on the national level.
On Saturday, the Maori Party won 1.3 percent of the vote and two seats in Parliament.
Labor's fall has been especially pronounced since Key's National Party took power after the 2008 elections. Before then, the Labor Party routinely scored more than 40 percent of the vote, and party leader Helen Clark served as prime minister in a coalition government for nine years. But Clark quit Parliament in 2009, after National came to power in its own coalition government. Since Clark's departure, three subsequent Labor leaders have been unable to rebuild the party.
"Their traditional working class base has gone," said Nigel McKinlay, who also lives near Cromwell. "Their policies are a grab bag of the fashionable and of what they think the focus polls say people want."
Several left-leaning voters said they believed Labor had moved too far to the middle, especially given the growing challenges of a changing climate.
"As I see it, I have only one option: Avoid wasting my vote on Labor and give it -- happily, given the current environmental concerns -- to the Green Party," said Thomas Greve, a computer consultant on Waiheke Island, just outside Auckland. "This will hopefully send a message to our leaders that the environment is important to an ever-growing number of voters, and it will also show Labor that they need to readdress their policies and reestablish themselves with a point of difference."