SYDNEY — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to run for political office in Australia. The Queensland-born fugitive says he intends to contest an upper house seat in the senate at a general election due later this year.
WikiLeaks has drawn international attention and controversy for publishing secret information from governments and corporations.
Now, the WikiLeaks Party will run candidates in Australia’s most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales, and Western Australia. The candidates’ identities will be revealed in the next month. They will contest seats in the federal Senate, Australia’s upper house of parliament.
Assange will fight for a seat in Victoria. A spokesman says the new party is committed to free speech, human rights, self-determination for indigenous Australians and “truth and transparency” for governments and corporations.
Assange has the support of GetUp!, an Australian online campaign group that has more than 600,000 members.
Its national director, Sam McLean, believes the WikiLeaks founder will shake up Australia’s domestic politics by making freedom of speech and information top issues in the campaign.
“We had in the last election the lowest voter turnout in our history [and] the highest informal voting," McLean said. "There will be millions of Australians showing up at the polling booth come the next federal election confused as to whom to vote for who feel like they don’t have a good option, so it is a very good time to be making an intervention if you are an outside player, as Mr. Assange is.”
Polling last year indicated that 25 percent of Australians would be likely to vote for Assange, with significant support among the young and Greens voters.
Andrew Fowler, the author of a biography on the WikiLeaks founder, believes he has become a more adept public speaker with the capacity to embarrass governments and politicians.
"His activism will make him attractive to vast sections of what you’d call the green left movement in Australia," Fowler said. "But his activism will also make him attractive to people on the other side of politics, who may think that we are heading towards, as Assange would call it, a surveillance state and that will worry people on the right."
Other analysts believe that WikiLeaks is crossing an important line by trying to join the political process instead of staying on the sidelines as a quasi-journalistic outfit.
The non-profit group has defended publishing secret U.S. communications, classified military documents and footage from the Iraq and Afghan wars, as part of its mission to bring important news and information to the public.
Critics say its disclosures have endangered informants and broken laws. U.S. prosecutors have said Wikileaks and founder Assange could be subject to prosecution for theft of government property.
Ariadne Vromen is a professor in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. She says the new party may find it hard to operate within Australia’s formal political system.
“It is easier to be outside the parliamentary system and outside the party political system and criticize it. Once you are inside the parliament, you are negotiating with other parties; it is very difficult to stay a single-issue party. So I suspect he [Assange] would find it more frustrating than exciting,” Vromen said.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since last June trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. He strongly denies the claims, insisting that they are politically motivated.
Election analyst Antony Green says even if elected, Assange would not be allowed to return home to Australia.
"The minute he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy he would be arrested by the British government and sent to Sweden for questioning," Green said. "If he was elected he could never be sworn in, which means his seat would be declared vacant at some stage and somebody else would fill his position.”
WikiLeaks says the new party had already exceeded the 500 members required to register with the Australian Electoral Commission. The formalities of registration are expected to be completed by the end of this month. Australia goes to the polls in mid September.