Say you’re an Australian publisher of an anti-secrecy website. Say you’ve published, without permission, over 251,000 diplomatic cables from the world’s most powerful government: the USA. Say six percent of those cables are classified “secret,” so the government wants to get hold of you, try you, and execute you. Say, to outsmart them and their crony countries-while you’re under house arrest in London because Sweden’s decided to question you concerning rape charges-you slip into Ecuador’s embassy, and you’re granted diplomatic asylum. Say London police declare they’ll arrest you as soon as you step outside the embassy.
Say, during the year you’re under asylum, you learn the Australian government is split over your actions. Some are trying to figure out how to try you for treason, though you’ve not broken any laws, while others support you and condemn threats from the U.S. and elsewhere against you.
Say you’re 42 years old, and facing all this. What do you do?
Well, of course, while sitting in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, you form a new Australian political party. And you announce as a candidate for the Australian Senate.
That’s exactly the extraordinary action Julian Assange took last week on July 25, formally inaugurating the WikiLeaks Party, named after his transparency-espousing website WikiLeaks.
Decision to Run
Assange actually announced a decision to run for the Australian Senate in March 2012, three months before applying for political asylum. He was granted asylum on Aug. 16 of last year, and still resides in London’s Ecuadorian embassy.
In late 2012, Assange announced an intent to form the new party, and in March 2013, the WikiLeaks Party registered with the Australian Electoral Commission. On April 23, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the new party had about 1,300 members.
The April article also noted:
A national poll conducted by UMR Research found 26 per cent of voters said they were likely to vote for Mr Assange and his political party.
UMR found support for Mr Assange and WikiLeaks is highest in NSW, with 36 per cent of people interviewed saying they are likely to support the new party in the Senate.
Support in Victoria is 23 per cent, in Queensland 22 per cent, and in Western Australia 18 per cent.
The WikiLeaks Party consists of a 10-member national council besides Assange. Here are the members, as compiled by Wikipedia from news articles:
- John Shipton – Chief Executive Officer of the WikiLeaks Party.
- Daniel Mathews – mathematician
- Niraj Lal – physicist at the Australian National University
- Kellie Tranter – lawyer, political activist and former independent candidate
- Cassie Findlay – digital archivist and freedom information activist
- Samantha Castro and Kaz Cochrane – WikiLeaks Australian Citizens Alliance co-conveners
- Luke Pearson – Indigenous education consultant and activist
- Gail Malone – peace activist
- Omar Todd – WikiLeaks Party National Council member
If Elected, Can He Serve?
That’s a logical question for any candidate living in a foreign embassy with law enforcement hovering outside prepped for an arrest.
The New York Times wondered that too, reporting :
Many believe that the WikiLeaks Party is simply a vanity project for Mr. Assange, although several polls conducted since plans to establish the party emerged earlier this year suggest that it could fare better than expected…
Under Australian law, Mr. Assange would have to take his seat within one year of being elected, although the Senate could technically grant him an extension if he is unable to physically take his seat.
The “what ifs” can get touchy, assuming Assange wins. He would still have to leave the Ecuadorian embassy to fly to Australia to be inducted into the Senate. Would London allow that? Would the Australian government pressure the UK to let Assange go? If Kevin Rudd, the current Aussie prime minister, is still in office, probably not. WikiLeaks’ massive volume of cables from the US included critical communications involving Rudd as foreign minister, and he denounced the WikiLeaks release.
If Assange had a friend in the prime minister, he might see an Aussie authority come to the embassy in London and swear him in. But that seems farfetched under Rudd, unless Assange won by such a margin that Rudd might see a political advantage in taking such an action. If such an action is permissible under international law.
Meanwhile, when announcing his candidacy, Assange said his party would work to advance “transparency, justice and accountability.” And, like any good politician will do, he immediately found an issue, saying in a later press conference that Bradley Manning’s conviction in military court of turning documents over to Wikileaks would “forever change the ability of journalists to reveal the most important crimes of the state. It is an attempt to redefine how journalism is done.”