SYDNEY – Whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks unveiled plans Saturday to field candidates in at least three states in Australia’s elections and said it will be “embarrassing” if Julian Assange wins but cannot take his seat.
Assange, Australian-born founder of the controversial WikiLeaks site, announced last year that he will run for the Senate and is pushing ahead with the plan despite being holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June.
Greg Barns, a lawyer who is Assange’s newly-appointed campaign director, said the WikiLeaks Party has secured candidates to run in at least three states when Australia goes to the polls on Sept. 14.
Aside from Assange, who is expected to be on the Upper House ticket for the state of Victoria, Barns said WikiLeaks will present several other “high quality candidates,” including a state running mate for the WikiLeaks chief.
That will allow the party to take the Victoria seat even if Assange, who sought Ecuadorean 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 whistle-blowing 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 presently has plans to run in, but Assange’s return to Australia if victorious will be a matter for Canberra.
“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 Sept. 14.”
Despite the swirl of allegations against him, the WikiLeaks founder is a popular figure in Australia.
Assange said last month that he believes the U.S. will drop its grand jury investigation of his diplomatic memo leaks and Britain will follow suit if he wins a seat in the September election.