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WikiLeaks' Assange plans bid for Australian Senate

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March 17, 2012, 10:17 a.m. | World — by Associated Press
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to run for a seat in the Australian Senate in elections due late next year despite being under virtual house arrest in England and facing criminal charges in Sweden, the group said Saturday. The 40-year-old Australian citizen is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted over sex crime allegations. Assange has taken his legal battle all the way to Britain's Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on his case imminently.

"We have discovered that it is possible for Julian Assange to run for the Australian Senate while detained. Julian has decided to run," WikiLeaks announced on Twitter.

Assange has criticized Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's center-left government for failing to stand up for him against the potential threat of his extradition to the United States for prosecution over WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of classified government documents.

John Wanna, an Australian National University political scientist, said it was possible for Assange to run for a Senate seat if he remains on the Australian electoral roll despite living overseas for several years.

"If he gets on the roll, then he can stand as long as he's solvent and not in jail and not insane," Wanna said.

Being convicted of a crime punishable under Australian law to 12 months or more in prison can disqualify a person from sitting in the Australian Parliament for the duration of the sentence, even if that sentence is suspended.

Constitutional lawyer George Williams, of the University of New South Wales, said that provision of the constitution had never been tested in the courts in the 111-year history of the Australian federation and probably would not apply to a criminal conviction in a foreign country such as Sweden.

"I'm not aware of an impediment to him standing, even if he was convicted," Williams said.

Any adult Australian citizen can run for the Australian Parliament, but few succeed without the backing of a major political party. Only one of Australia's 76 current senators does not represent a party.

Every Australian election attracts candidates who have no hope of winning, but use their campaigns as publicity stunts for various political or commercial causes.

Wanna said while the odds were against Assange winning a seat, his high profile could see him attract more than 4 percent of the votes in his nominated state.

The next Senate election cannot be called before July 2013 and is due around August. Candidates cannot officially register as candidates until the election is called at least a month before the poll date.

Assange's mother Christine Assange, a 60-year-old professional puppeteer from rural Queensland state, did not immediately respond on Saturday to The Associated Press's request for comment.
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