The WikiLeaks experiment may open a new chapter, if leader Julian Assange’s bid for an Australian senate seat is successful. Assange, fresh from helping U.S. intelligence defector/hero (defectero?) Edward Snowden to a new life in Russia, has launched his candidacy for Australia’s senate from the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. While the possibility of his becoming Australia’s first elected senator-in-exile appears slender, no one is writing off the chances of his party. Moreover, as a narrow election shapes up in Australia, the balance of power on crucial votes in the Senate could end up in the hands of his WikiLeaks Party, which is fielding seven candidates in three states. And Assange is coming to the September 7 elections with some PR momentum. Arguably, he, along with Vladimir Putin, has been the biggest winner in the Snowden affair to date.
But complications await a WikiLeaks Party Senate victory should it make a positive showing in Australia’s elections. They may find themselves at immediate loggerheads with another small party, the Greens, which occupy a similar place on the political spectrum. Also, a one-issue transparency party may provide a not-so-productive disruptor in Australia’s federal politics, following a period of deep acrimony between and within the two major parties. And consider that Assange’s “plans are to essentially parachute in a crack troop of investigative journalists into the senate and to do what we have done with WikiLeaks, in holding banks and government and intelligence agencies to account,” as he put it. He mentioned issuing fellow senators with secure WikiLeaks drives on which they can leak information about corruption to him. Politically, this would be extremely messy.
WikiLeaks’ view of government-as-conspiracy has gathered currency in light of Snowden’s revelations. Assange, perhaps the world’s leading proponent of this view, has a grasp of technology and its implications for the individual — but a much weaker grasp on bigger, non-technical political realities. Indeed, the biggest political challenge for the WikiLeaks Party may be power itself. It would have to deliver results to citizens if it governed; yet Assange has pledged not to give up his digital activism if he wins a seat. How would WikiLeaks (and by extension) Assange maintain credibility were they to join the “conspiracy”?
Set aside, for the moment, the granular political considerations here, and remember that success in elevating Assange’s plight into a federal issue would have international implications with the U.K. and U.S., at the very least. It would do this both through the insertion of Assange’s legal plight as well as by creating a fresh platform for Assange’s ideological commentary, a platform that would add to it the weight of political office.
Finally, the tilting of power towards an authoritarian Asia and the emerging world in recent years — notably China with Russia as an enabler — increasingly puts the world’s democracies on trial. After a period when Australia’s Labor and Liberals appeared adrift (not unlike their peers in the U.S.) the prospect of converting Australia’s Senate into Assange’s playhouse should give even transparency-minded Australians serious pause.