WikiLeaks founder says proud of Australian support
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — WikiLeaks founder and Australian Senate candidate Julian Assange says he is proud of the level of support he enjoys in his home country and has pledged to enforce transparency in Parliament if he wins a seat in elections in September.
“When you turn a bright light on, the cockroaches scuttle away, and that’s what we need to do to Canberra,” the Australian capital, Assange told Nine Network television in an interview filmed in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and broadcast in Australia on Sunday.
In a separate interview at the embassy, where he has taken refuge for more than a year, the 42-year-old fugitive told Ten Network that his popularity demonstrated by a recent opinion poll reflected poorly on the ruling Labor Party.
The center-left government staunchly supports the U.S. condemnation of WikiLeaks’ disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
A national survey by Sydney-based UMR Research, a company that Labor relies on for its own internal polling, found in April that 26 percent of Australian voters said they were likely to vote for Assange or other candidates running for his WikiLeaks Party in national elections, which Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced Sunday would be held Sept. 7.
“I’m obviously proud of that, but it’s also something extremely interesting about the Australian people and about what is happening and the perceptions of what is happening in Canberra,” Assange told Ten.
Assange did not favor conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, whom opinion polls suggest will likely be the next prime minister. Assange told Nine that Abbott as head of government “wouldn’t be good for anyone.”
UMR managing director John Utting told Fairfax Media in April said that the poll showed WikiLeaks had “a good chance” of winning seats if Assange runs a clever campaign. A Senate seat can be won with as little as 17 percent of the vote within a state.
The online survey of 1,000 voters had a 3 percentage point margin of error.
A poll published by The Monthly website in June conducted by Melbourne-based Roy Morgan Research found 21 percent of voters would consider voting for Assange’s WikiLeaks Party, with support greater among women (23 percent to 20). The poll, taken June 4-6, was based on a telephone survey of 546 voters. No margin of error was published.
Assange has been campaigning by Skype from a room in the embassy, where he was granted asylum in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations.
He is one of three WikiLeaks Party Senate candidates in Victoria state. The party, which was registered by the Australian Electoral Commission only last month, will also field candidates in New South Wales and Western Australia states.
Assange argues his extradition to Sweden is merely a first step in efforts to move him to the United States, where he has infuriated officials by publishing secret documents, including 250,000 State Department cables. U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning has admitted passing those documents to WikiLeaks. Manning faces up to 136 years in prison after being convicted of leaking classified information to the anti-secrecy group while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.
The Australian government has echoed U.S. condemnations of Assange’s publishing, but also says he has not broken any Australian laws.
If Assange wins the election, he would be required to take up his Senate seat on July 1, 2014.
WikiLeaks Party national council member Sam Castro said that if Assange wins a seat but cannot return to Australia by then, the party can choose a replacement.
Assange spent almost two years fighting extradition over alleged 2010 assaults on two Swedish women, which he denies. In June 2012, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled against him, prompting his asylum bid with Ecuador, whose leftist government had expressed support.
Assange told Australia’s The Conversation website in February that he regards his bid to become a senator as a defense against potential criminal prosecution. He said that if he wins a Senate seat, the U.S. Department of Justice would drop its espionage investigation rather than risk a diplomatic row.