In September, debutante parties representing both will face off at the Aussie ballot box.
In the purple corner, the Rick Falkvinge inspired Pirate Party. In the black corner, the newly formed Wikileaks Party with Julian Assange himself running as candidate-in-chief for a senate seat in the southern state of Victoria.
Despite currently wallowing in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy and facing constitutional hurdles, Assange’s senate candidacy is alive and kicking. Victoria is also expected to deliver the Pirate Party a small, but statistically significant vote. Australians have a soft spot for Wikileaks and piracy – though its yet to be determined how this popularity will translate into election votes.
Australia operates two parliaments at a national level, much like the United States and Britain. The lower house uses an electoral system similar to the United Kingdom’s House of Commons or the United State’s House of Representatives, candidates slugging it out for a single seat in numerous electorates.
Then, just to make things interesting, each voter is allowed to mark down preferences. If a voter’s primary candidate does not achieve the required quota to get elected, their vote spills down to the second preference, then third, forth, fifth and so on, until it finds a candidate with enough votes to achieve a quota. The system has seen all manner of minor parties snare a seat in the Australian senate, from hard-right religious zealots and large voting blocks of Greens through to a blacksmith.
Victoria will elect six senators in September. If voting patterns follow the 2010 election, four or five seats will be gobbled up by entrenched major parties, leaving the remaining one or two to be squabbled over by Greens and other minors and independents.
It is during these squabbles that preferences become critical. Our blacksmith managed to get himself elected in Victoria with just under two per cent of the primary vote. Preferences did the rest.
The final piece of the puzzle is that parties can officially direct their faithful on how to allocate preferences. It’s not mandatory, but it is strongly followed by most voters because ticking a box that says “what the party I like wants” is much easier than numbering upwards of sixty candidates individually. Voting is mandatory in Australia. Bored and disaffected voters like to get the process over and done with as quickly as possible.
Wikileaks and the pirates are yet to announce what preference “deals” they will be making with other parties. Major party strategists agonize over these deals because they can be critical in winning a tightly contested seat. The major parties often preference each other last while doing deals with minors such as the Greens.
The Wikileaks and Pirate Parties both appeal to a similar demographic of voters – often young, technologically-minded people who believe in open government. But there are points of difference.
Some Pirate Party members are openly hostile towards Wikileaks. Type Assange into Pirate Party Australia’s very open IRC chat rooms and you will be hit with a range of opinions from full support to total derision.
The Pirate Party will be putting preference deals to a membership vote later this year. Party vice president Simon Frew said he could not predict how the voting would go.
“It would be safe to say both Wikileaks and the Greens would be preferenced highly and the major parties significantly lower due to their appalling policies on copyright and patents, surveillance and civil liberties,” Mr Frew told Torrentfreak.
The newly formed Wikileaks Party is not yet ready to discuss how preferences will be allocated, if at all, according to insiders.
Some Pirate Party supporters have worried openly about how the looming match-up could split the vote, denying both parties a chance at election. Preferencing away from each other could potentially damage both.
Falkvinge and Assange probably never imagined when they had drinks together back in August 2010 that the movements each has spearheaded would end up contesting an Australian election. Photos from that night depict easy-going, natural allies.
Three years on, the Wikileaks and Pirate Parties are set for a political fight, but symbolic of the ideals of both – sharing not competing – may prove the best strategy.