Whistleblowing group WikiLeaks unveiled plans Saturday to field candidates in at least three states in Australia’s elections and said it would be “embarrassing” if Julian Assange won but could not take his seat.
Assange, Australian-born founder of the controversial WikiLeaks site, announced that he would run for the Senate last year and is pushing ahead with the plan despite being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June.
Greg Barns, a lawyer who is Assange’s newly-appointed campaign director, said the WikiLeaks Party had secured candidates to run in at least three states when Australia goes to the polls on September 14.
Aside from Assange, who is expected to be on the upper house ticket for the state of Victoria, Barns said WikiLeaks would present several other “high quality candidates” including a state running mate for the WikiLeaks chief.
That would allow the party to take the Victoria seat even if Assange, who sought Ecuadorian asylum in a bid to dodge extradition to Sweden where he is wanted over sex crime allegations, is unable to return to Australia.
Britain refused to grant Assange safe passage out of the country, leaving him stranded in Ecuador’s London embassy, and Australia — his place of birth — has been outspoken about his whistleblowing activities.
Barns said the WikiLeaks Party “certainly think we’re in the mix to win a Senate seat in each of the three states”.
“It would be up to the government to secure the opportunity for Mr Assange to come back to Australia,” Barns told reporters.
But he added: “It would be internationally embarrassing for the voters of Victoria not to be able to have in the senate the person for whom they voted on September 14.”
Despite the swirl of allegations against him, the WikiLeaks founder is a popular figure in Australia.
Assange said last month that he believed the US would drop its grand jury investigation of his diplomatic memo leaks and Britain would follow suit were he to win a seat in the Australian election.
To persist would risk an “international diplomatic row” Assange told the Australian news website The Conversation.
Barns denied that Assange’s Senate bid was merely a strategy to secure his release from the embassy and return to Australia.
“If that were the case he would simply put his name down for the Senate, run in the ungrouped category and hope to get elected,” he said.
Assange’s father John Shipton, chairman of the WikiLeaks Party, echoed Barns’s remarks, saying his son was “very firm” in his commitment to politics.
“This is the political manifestation of an event that’s been unfolding for 10 years,” said Shipton.
“In this way, transparency can have the arm of accountability with some political authority and power behind it.”
Assange has vowed to be a libertarian and “fierce defender of free media” if he is elected to the 76-seat Australian Senate.
The WikiLeaks Party said more than 500 people had already signed up as members — the threshold to be registered with the Australian Electoral Commission — and that they came from across the political spectrum.