TAUBE: WikiLeaks dives into politics Down Under
Did you hear that there’s a new political party in Australia? If not, here’s an interesting fact about its founder: He has a real penchant for leaking diplomatic memos and other classified documents.
Yes, Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks, has jumped into the shark-infested political waters. His WikiLeaks Party will reportedly be running three candidates in September’s Senate elections in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria. Mr. Assange, who is currently in hiding in Ecuador, will be vying for the latter seat.
According to its website, the WikiLeaks Party will maintain an “unswerving commitment to the core principles of civic courage nourished by understanding and truthfulness and the free flow of information.” This will apparently include “the protection of human rights and freedoms; transparency of governmental and corporate action, policy and information; recognition of the need for equality between generations; and support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination,” among other things.
Fair enough. Australia is a democratic country with parties on both sides of the political spectrum. If the Australian Electoral Commission approves its registration (which is still ongoing), the WikiLeaks Party will run a small slate of candidates. If enough people vote for Mr. Assange's party, he could very well sit in the Australian Senate.
While WikiLeaks has the right to form a political party and run in any country it so chooses, there’s also no doubt this would be a huge blight on the Australian political system.
Let’s be honest: The WikiLeaks Party’s raison d’etre is not quite as selfless as it may seem. Mr. Assange is clearly trying to find yet another way to avoid extradition to Sweden to face long-standing allegations of sexual assault. Certainly, he has said otherwise — but what else would you expect him to say? He is a public figure who desires the spotlight, and sees the political landscape as a way to temporarily quench his never-ending thirst for publicity.
This is not a clear-cut scenario, mind you. It’s quite conceivable Mr. Assange will ultimately lose his bid for the Senate owing to his past history as a notorious rabble-rouser. Even if he wins, it’s probably a good bet there will be a formidable legal challenge to keep him out of the seat in Victoria.
If either scenario comes to pass, I’m confident that few tears will be shed for Mr. Assange’s predicament.
As an organization, WikiLeaks has caused more than its fair share of tension by releasing copious amounts of secret documents and diplomatic cables. While some of the facts contained in these papers were either previously known or speculated, others were sensational and helped serve to weaken international relations and increase the mistrust of certain nations.
Some people view Mr. Assange as a hero for what he has done. They admire him for being a so-called libertarian — as he once told Forbes magazine in November 2010 — and an important whistle-blower. Others (including me) wanted to see Mr. Assange either arrested for espionage or disappear from the public scene for lighting an unnecessary political fire. They didn’t fear him, but feared what WikiLeaks had done to the current and future safety and security of democratic nations worldwide.
Australia’s electoral system of proportional representation means candidates must reach a certain threshold to achieve victory. According to Jonathan Swan of the Sydney Morning Herald, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll showed “22 percent of those knowing” about Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks “said they would consider voting for him.” This would equal 15 percent of Victoria respondents, and “a candidate needs just over 14 percent of the vote to be elected.” As Mr. Swan wrote, “Assange would win a Senate seat in Victoria without preferences only if every voter considering voting for him actually did.”
In other words, it’s within the realm of possibility right now. Given the fact that Mr. Assange has a few more months to make his case to potential voters, his numbers could increase or decrease dramatically before Election Day.
My hope is that Australia will ultimately reject Mr. Assange’s bid for a Senate seat. While third parties play a vital role in the political process, the WikiLeaks Party is nothing more than a small component of its founder’s delusions of grandeur. The further away he is from a political soapbox, the better off we all are.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.