Would you vote for Julian Assange in an election? As whistleblower Bradley Manning is set to finally stand trial on Monday in the U.S. for leaking government files to WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange may be soon be helping to make laws as a senator in the Australian parliament. Assange and his WikiLeaks Party are set to contest September's election and polls last month showed that they have a real chance of winning senate seats in the states of Victoria and New South Wales.
The presence of Assange and WikiLeaks in Australian politics, no matter what you think of their policies, will be bound to make things more interesting and perhaps even energize a disillusioned electorate. And if elected, Assange and his supporters will no doubt prove to be a constant thorn in the side of the government in their quest for transparency.
Manning is facing life imprisonment on charges of aiding the enemy, while Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government. Assange fears that if he leaves the embassy and is taken to Sweden for questioning over outstanding sexual assault allegations, he will be extradited to the U.S. to face prosecution for the publication of the military and government files leaked by Manning. And his fear is very valid — given the U.S. government's aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers and its investigations into the actions of WikiLeaks.
Despite this, Assange announced last year that he plans to run for the senate in Victoria, and his WikiLeaks Party will also contest seats in New South Wales and Western Australia. The party submitted its registration last month, and at the time had almost triple the 500 members required to register a political party in Australia. A poll conducted by UMR Research in April found that 26% of voters were likely to support Assange and his party nationally, with 36% of people interviewed in New South Wales saying they are likely to support the party, 23% in Victoria, 22% in Queensland, and 18% in Western Australia.
Because of the nature of the Australia's preferential voting system, candidates only need to secure one-sixth of the vote to win their seat. While there are 12 senate seats in Victoria, only six are up for vote in September. UMR managing director John Utting says that while he expects the vote for WikiLeaks to eventually be lower than the poll showed, if Assange runs a clever campaign he will have a good chance of winning the last, sixth senate seats." Mary Kostakidis writes in The Guardian that part of the appeal of Assange is that:
He is David to the U.S.' Goliath, a Ned Kelly like figure fighting injustice while being hounded by the authorities. His platform – transparency, accountability and social justice – cuts across policy areas and is a good fit with the remit of the Upper House.
Furthermore, many Australians are increasingly disillusioned with the two main parties, Labor and the Liberals, with public "trust in them is at an all-time low." While there appear to be a significant number of people willing to vote for Assange and WikiLeaks on principle, there may also be more who would vote for them as a form of protest against the current state of Australian politics.
While the logistics of Assange actually being able to set foot in the senate if he is elected are obviously tricky given his current situation, a running mate would fill his seat if he is unable to return to Australia.
Whether you agree with what Assange and WikiLeaks stand for or not, their presence in the Australian Senate races later this year will be sure to shake things up. As Kostakidis points out:
The Wikileaks Party will be raising issues that are not big ticket items for the mainstream parties who prefer to be left alone to quietly do as they please on matters relating to freedom of information, whistle-blower protection, privacy, surveillance and government accountability to citizen.
And that can only be a good thing.