WikiLeaks founder and Australian senate candidate Julian Assange says he is proud of the level of support he enjoys in his home country ahead of federal elections in September.
The 42-year-old fugitive told Ten Network television in an interview filmed in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and broadcast in Australia on Sunday that his popularity demonstrated by a recent opinion poll reflected poorly on the ruling Labor Party. The government staunchly supports the US condemnation of WikiLeaks' disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
A national survey by Sydney-based UMR Research, a company which Labor relies on for its own internal polling, found in April that 26 percent of Australian voters said they were likely to vote for Assange or other candidates running for his WikiLeaks Party in national elections, which Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on Sunday would be hold Sept. 7.
"I'm obviously proud of that, but it's also something extremely interesting about the Australian people and about what is happening and the perceptions of what is happening in Canberra," Assange said, referring to the national capital.
UMR managing director John Utting told Fairfax Media in April said that the poll showed WikiLeaks had "a good chance" of winning seats if Assange runs a clever campaign. A senate seat can be won with as little as 17 percent of the vote within a state.
The online survey of 1,000 voters had a 3 percentage point margin of error.
A poll published by The Monthly website in June conducted by Melbourne-based Roy Morgan Research found 21 percent of voters would consider voting for Assange's party, with support greater among women (23% to 20%). The poll was based on a telephone survey of 546 voters on June 4 - 6. No margin of error was published.
Assange has been campaigning by Skype from a room in the embassy where he was granted asylum more than a year ago to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations.
He said electioneering was difficult from his hot and windowless room in the embassy.
"It's not easy, it's a challenge ... and I'm someone who likes challenges," Assange said.
"The situation is difficult here, but I'm doing great work," he added.
Assange is one of three WikiLeaks Party Senate candidates in Victoria state for elections that will be held before December. The party, which was registered by the Australian Electoral Commission only last month, will also field candidates in New South Wales and Western Australia states.
Assange said his party's seven Senate candidates would go to Canberra to address what it says has been a gradual decline in Australian democracy over the past 30 years.
Assange argues his extradition to Sweden is merely a first step in efforts to move him to the United States, where he has infuriated officials by publishing secret documents, including 250,000 State Department cables. US Army soldier Bradley Manning has admitted passing those documents to WikiLeaks. Manning faces up to 136 years in prison after being convicted of leaking classified information to the anti-secrecy group while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.
The Australian government has echoed U.S. condemnations of Assange's publishing, but also says he has not broken any Australian laws.
If Assange wins the election, he would be required to take up his Senate seat on July 1, 2014.
WikiLeaks Party national council member Sam Castro said that if Assange wins a seat but cannot return to Australia by then, the party can choose a replacement.
Assange spent almost two years fighting extradition over alleged 2010 assaults on two Swedish women, which he denies. In June 2012, Britain's Supreme Court ruled against him, prompting his asylum bid with Ecuador, whose leftist government had expressed support.
Assange told Australia's The Conversation website in February that he regards his bid to become a senator as a defense against potential criminal prosecution.
Assange told the website that if he wins a Senate seat, the US Department of Justice would drop its espionage investigation rather than risk a diplomatic row.