By Rod McGuirk – Washington Times
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to run for a seat in the Australian Senate in elections due next year despite being under virtual house arrest in England and facing sex crime allegations in Sweden, the group said Saturday.
The 40-year-old Australian citizen is fighting extradition to Sweden. He has taken his legal battle all the way to Britain’s Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on his case soon.
“We have discovered that it is possible for Julian Assange to run for the Australian Senate while detained. Julian has decided to run,” WikiLeaks announced on Twitter.
Assange has criticized Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s center-left government for not standing up for him against the potential threat of his extradition to the United States for prosecution over WikiLeaks’ release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents.
Australian police have concluded that WikiLeaks and Assange have not broken any Australian laws by publishing the U.S. cables, although Gillard has condemned the action as “grossly irresponsible.”
John Wanna, an Australian National University political scientist, said it was possible for Assange to run for a Senate seat if he remains on the Australian electoral roll despite living overseas for several years.
“If he gets on the roll, then he can stand as long as he’s solvent and not in jail and not insane,” Wanna said.
Being convicted of a crime punishable under Australian law by 12 months or more in prison can disqualify a person from running for the Australian Parliament for the duration of the sentence, even if it is suspended.
Constitutional lawyer George Williams of the University of New South Wales said that provision of the constitution has never been tested in the courts in the 111-year history of the Australian federation and probably would not apply to a criminal conviction in a foreign country such as Sweden.
“I’m not aware of an impediment to him standing, even if he was convicted,” Williams said.
Any adult Australian citizen can run for the Australian Parliament, but few succeed without the backing of a major political party. Only one of Australia’s 76 current senators does not represent a party.
Every Australian election attracts candidates who have little hope of winning and use their campaigns to seek publicity for various political or commercial causes.
Wanna said the odds are against Assange winning a seat, but that he could receive more than 4 percent of the votes in his nominated state because of his high profile. At that threshold, candidates can claim more than $2 per vote from the government to offset their campaign expenses. Assange’s bill to the taxpayer could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The next Senate election cannot be called before July 2013 and is due around August. Candidates cannot officially register as candidates until the election is called at least a month before the poll date.
Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, a professional puppeteer from rural Queensland state, said Saturday she had yet to discuss her son’s political bid with him.
She criticized what she called the government’s willingness to put its defense treaty with the United States ahead of the rights of an Australian citizen.
“The No. 1 issue at the next election regardless of who you vote for is democracy in this country — whether or not we’re just a state of the U.S. and whether or not our citizens are going to be just handed over as a sacrifice to the U.S. alliance,” she said.
Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.