Julian Assange may have blown his best chance to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy and return home to Australia as a free man.
The founder of WikiLeaks, who has been holed up in the Ecuador's diplomatic mission in London for over a year, is now facing another obstacle to freedom. Assange had founded the WikiLeaks Party in his native Australia in an attempt to win election to the Australian Senate; which he believes would make it more difficult for him to be extradited to Sweden where he faces sexual-assault charges. However, the party just split up in turmoil earlier this week after members of its national council discovered that Assange and his inner circle had been ignoring them and making major decisions on their own.
Under the system of proportional representation used for the Australian Senate, voters in each state can either rank specific candidates or let their first choice party do so. Considering that there are often over 50 people on the ballot, voters to tend just defer to their party. The result is frenzied negotiations between small parties and large parties to maximize their representation and avoid wasted votes.
The Wikileaks Party's national council thought it had agreed to a plan where the party would be making deals to work closely with the Australian Green Party and other left-of-center groups. Then they discovered that Assange instead had made deals with a far-right party as well as one that is militantly pro-gun. The result was a number of party members quit, including Leslie Cannold, Assange’s No. 2 in the party, and Daniel Mathews, one of his close friends from college, leaving the party divided two weeks before the election.
In an article published in the Guardian on Wednesday, Mathews uses tough language to describe the personality of Assange, who he still admires, will vote for, and considers a friend. He describes Assange as “not ... suited to a party with democratic national-council oversight” and someone who “really ought not to have set up a party with internal democracy.”
This was mild criticism compared to Cannold, who proclaimed in a statement “to keep being a candidate feels like I'm breaking faith with the Australian people.” Although she didn’t mention Assange by name, she denigrated the party, stating that its backroom maneuverings were an “unacceptable mode of operation for any organization but even more so for an organization explicitly committed to democracy, transparency, and accountability.”
Assange shrugged it off. He’s been distracted with the flight of Edward Snowden as well as the Bradley Manning trial. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), he said "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 [Bradley Manning]. Now the result is over-delegation, so I admit and I accept full responsibility for over-delegating functions to the Australian party while I tried to take care of those situations.” In addition, Assange noted the difficulty of running an Australian political party from London, nine time zones away.
It’s quite possible that the “over-delegation” will cost Assange a seat in the Australian Senate. If so, while Assange’s work on behalf of Edward Snowden may have helped the NSA leaker leave the Moscow airport, it may have ensured that the Wikileaks founder's indefinite confinement in the Ecuadorean Embassy continues.