CANBERRA (Reuters) - Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s plans to capture a seat at Australia’s September 7 elections were in disarray on Thursday after his top local candidate quit due to an internal fight over party organization.
Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, accepted responsibility for the divisions, saying he had been too busy helping fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
“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,” Assange told Australian television on Thursday.
“I admit and I accept full responsibility for over delegating functions to the Australian party while I try to take care of that situation.”
Assange has been given political asylum by Ecuador, but faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden to face accusations of rape and sexual assault if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy.
Assange has set up the Wikileaks Party in Australia and is 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 percent of the vote needed to win a Senate seat -- including “preference” ballots from other parties under Australia’s complex 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 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 received by Reuters.
ANGER OVER “PREFERENCE” DEALS
The dispute stems from the way the Wikileaks Party decided to distribute its preferences to other parties in the election. Under Australia’s electoral 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 preference arrangements had to be lodged with the Electoral Commission last week and it is now too late to make any changes. It is also too late for Cannold to be removed from the ballot papers.
Assange said Cannold did not discuss her concerns with him before announcing 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 ABC television from London. “Part of the problem here is the teething problems of a young party.”
Editing by Ron Popeski