Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s plans to capture a seat at Australia’s elections on 7 September are in disarray after his leading local candidate quit in a spat over party organisation.
Mr Assange, who has sought sanctuary in Ecuador’s embassy in London, accepted responsibility for the divisions, saying he had been too busy helping fugitive former United States spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, to attend to the election.
“I made a decision two months ago to spend a lot of my time on dealing with the Edward Snowden asylum situation, and trying to save the life of a young man. The result is over-delegation,” Mr Assange told Australian television.
“I admit and accept full responsibility for over-delegating functions to the Australian party while I try to take care of that situation.”
Mr Assange has been given asylum by Ecuador, but faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden to face accusations of rape and sexual assault if he leaves the grounds of its embassy in London. He claims the charges are a holding case which would allow the US to extradite him if he were to return to Sweden.
He had set up the Wikileaks Party in Australia and was running for a seat in the Senate upper house on a platform of transparency of information and protection of human rights.
Polls show his party is unlikely to attract the 17 per cent needed to win a Senate seat – including “preference” ballots from other parties under Australia’s proportional voting system.
If he did win, he would need to return to Australia or his party would hand the seat to the second candidate on its list, Leslie Cannold. But Ms Cannold has now quit the WikiLeaks Party, saying it was undemocratic and suggesting other candidates might also resign.
“As long as I believed there was a chance that democracy, transparency and accountability could prevail in the party I was willing to stay on and fight for it,” she said in a letter of resignation.
“But where a party member makes a bid to subvert the party’s own processes, asking others to join in a secret, alternative power centre that subverts the properly constituted one, nothing makes sense anymore.
“This is an unacceptable mode of operation for any organisation but even more so for an organisation explicitly committed to democracy, transparency and accountability.”
The dispute stems from the way the WikiLeaks Party decided to distribute its preferences to other parties in the election. Under Australia’s PR system, losing Senate parties direct their votes to other like-minded candidates, boosting their chances of winning a seat.
But in two states, the WikiLeaks Party has given its preferences to far-right parties ahead of strong supporters the Greens, sparking anger inside the party.
The WikiLeaks Party said it would review its preference deals. But the arrangements had to be lodged with the Electoral Commission last week and it is now too late to change. It is also too late for Ms Cannold to be removed from the ballot papers.
Mr Assange said Ms Cannold did not discuss her concerns with him before her resignation.
“During the night, this whole kerfuffle broke out in Australia. I wasn’t aware of it until this morning. Leslie didn’t speak to me to address any concerns,” he told Australian television from London. “Part of the problem here is the teething problems of a young party.”
The party’s National Council member Daniel Mathews announced his resignation late on Wednesday, citing “the recent fiasco over Senate preferences”.
Mr Mathews was also critical of Mr Assange for only attending one of 13 National Council meetings.
“Helping Ed Snowden is surely more important than attending a council meeting,” he said. “But still, attending one out of the first 13 meetings (all of which he could call in to) is a fairly low participation rate in one’s own party.”