Iceland election could propel radical Pirate party into power

Iceland election could propel radical Pirate party into power


A party that favours direct democracy, complete government transparency, decriminalising drugs and offering asylum to Edward Snowden could form the next government in Iceland after the country goes to the polls on Saturday.

Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, Iceland’s Pirate party looks on course to either win or finish a close second.

The radical party, founded by activists and hackers four years ago as part of an international anti-copyright movement, captured 5% of the vote in 2013 elections, winning three seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament, the Althingi.

This time around, analysts say it could win between 18 and 20 seats. This would put it in pole position to form a government at the head of a broad progressive alliance of up to five parties currently in opposition.

The party’s leader and figurehead is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a 49-year-old feminist MP, poet, artist and former WikiLeaks collaborator. Jónsdóttir says she has no ambition to be prime minister, pointing to the Pirate party’s horizontal structure. Rather, she wants to sweep away what she sees as Iceland’s dysfunctional system.

“People in Iceland are sick of corruption and nepotism,” she has said. She likens Iceland to a chilly North Atlantic version of Sicily, ruled by a few “mafia-style families” plus their friends, whom she nicknames “the Octopus”.

Of her political movement, she says: “We do not define ourselves as left or right but rather as a party that focuses on the systems. In other words, we consider ourselves hackers – so to speak – of our current outdated systems of government.”?This anti-establishment message has resonated with large swaths of Iceland’s 320,000-strong population, especially the young. On Monday Jónsdóttir and two party colleagues took part in an AMA, or “ask me anything”, on Reddit. Their wide-ranging discussion covered the EU (the Pirates would put Iceland’s membership application to a referendum), fishing quotas, whaling, climate change and the party’s name.

“We’re called the Pirate party in reference to a global movement of Pirate parties that popped up over the last decade,” parliamentary candidate Smári McCarthy explained. “Despite our name, we’re taken fairly seriously in Iceland, in particular because of our very aggressive anti-corruption stance, [and] our pro-transparency work.”

A poll last week put the Pirates, who hang a black pirate flag in their parliamentary office, on nearly 21% of the vote. This is far short of the 40%-plus it was polling at the height of mass anti-government protests this spring, but enough to leave a combination of it and the Left-Green party, on 19%, just 10 points short of a majority.?The Pirate party has ruled out any possibility of forming a coalition with either of the current two ruling parties, the centre-right Independence party and centrist Progressive party. It says it hopes to form a pre-election alliance with supportive parties so voters can “know what their vote will mean”.

All too often in Icelandic politics, the party says, electoral pledges are reneged on after elections, with “the parties forming a government … hiding behind compromises in coalition – enabling them to cheat voters again and again”.

Saturday’s election was prompted by the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson. He became the first major casualty of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he and his wife had millions of pounds of family money offshore. Gunnlaugsson hadn’t declared the British Virgin Islands company.

This was not illegal, but the news sparked outrage and some of the largest protests that Iceland has ever seen. The ruling coalition replaced Gunnlaugsson with the agriculture and fisheries minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson and promised elections before the end of this year.

Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive party is now languishing at about 8% in the polls, barely a third of its score in the 2013 elections. Support for the Independence party, the Pirates’ rival for the position of largest party, seems to be holding.

Jónsdóttir, the Pirates’ parliamentary leader, has said her party is willing to form a government with any party that subscribes to its agenda of “fundamental system change”, including the introduction of a new, crowdsourced national constitution.

It strongly advocates greater protection for whistleblowers. Its first ever bill proposed back in 2013 was on granting Snowden asylum. Jónsdóttir attracted international attention in 2010 when she worked with Julian Assange on a leaked video which revealed US helicopter pilots killing two Reuters journalists on the streets of Baghdad.

Built on the belief that new technologies can help promote civic engagement and government transparency and accountability, the Pirates also advocate an “unlimited right” for citizens to be involved in political decision-making. It wants voters to be able to propose new legislation and decide on it in national referendums.

The Pirate party is part of a global anti-establishment trend typified by parties on the left such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and on the right such as Germany’s AfD and Britain’s Ukip. As well as promising to accept Bitcoin as legal tender, Iceland’s Pirates have pledged to maintain the country’s economic stability.

Iceland has recovered economically since the 2008 crash, when Iceland’s three biggest banks collapsed; owing 11 times the country’s GDP. Reykjavík’s stock market fell 97% and the value of the krona halved. Helped by a tourism boom – 2.4 million visitors, nearly seven times the country’s population, are expected in 2017 – economic growth is forecast to reach 4.3% this year, and unemployment has fallen to just over 3%.

Unlike some other anti-establishment parties, the Pirates have made clear they have no intention of doing anything likely to upset the economy. Analysts say there is little panic at the prospect of the radical party entering government.

“Across Europe, increasingly many people think that the system that is supposed to look after them is not doing it any more,” Jónsdóttir said. “But we know we are new to this, and it is important that we are extra careful and extra critical of ourselves to not take too much on.”

Source: The Guardian

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