ICELAND’S ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT Pirate Party is set to shake up the political landscape in today’s parliament election, with voters on course to punish a government tainted by the Panama Papers.
Iceland called the snap vote in August after the global tax evasion scandal ensnared several senior politicians and claimed the scalp of the prime minister.
The revelations rocked the North Atlantic island nation, reigniting the popular anger last seen during the 2008 financial crisis that wrecked Iceland’s banking system and led to a severe economic depression.
Despite Iceland since returning to robust economic growth of over four percent and low unemployment, analysts say there is a rising tide of anti-establishment sentiment, witnessed in the mass street protests that erupted in April over the Panama Papers.
“Iceland has recovered from the tremor but the aftershock has shaken up the political system,” said Eirikur Bergman, professor of political science at Bifrost University.
“Voters are keen on punishing (the mainstream parties),” he added.
Rather than lurching to the right – a trend seen in several European countries – Iceland’s voters appear likely to entrust the running of their nation to a handful of left-leaning groups.
But the future makeup of the government is far from clear in a country of just over 330,000 people better known for its breathtaking volcanic landscapes than its politics.
‘I want change’
After Iceland’s sensational performance in the Euro football championships which saw the national team beat England before being knocked out by host France in the quarter finals, anything is possible.
The latest opinion poll shows the Icelandic Pirate Party running neck-and-neck with the conservative Independence Party, which has governed Iceland in a coalition with the centre Progressive Party since 2013.
“I want change. I don’t like everything that the Pirates are proposing, but if we want change, it’s the best party,” said labourer Einar Hannesson, 42.
The Pirates – founded in 2012 by activists, anarchists and former hackers – are set to win more than 22% of the vote, according to a survey conducted this month by the University of Reykjavik.
That puts them just ahead of the Independence Party at 21% and could give them 15 of the 63 seats in the Althingi or parliament, up from five now.
Such an outcome would not be enough to govern alone but could give the Pirates the clout to form a coalition.
They have already ruled out inviting the ruling parties to join them in government, instead calling for talks with other opposition groups including the Left-Green Movement which is predicted to win about a fifth of the vote.
Distrust of political elite
The election was triggered after prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned in April, the first major public figure to fall from grace over the Panama Papers, which revealed that 600 Icelanders including cabinet ministers, bankers and business leaders had holdings stashed away in tax havens.
Although the government has remained in place, his successor Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson remains deeply unpopular over his perceived closeness to business and the Panama fallout.
Veteran president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson also renounced plans to run in June for a sixth term in office after his wife was named in the papers.
The Pirate Party, whose co-founder Birgitta Jonsdottir has emerged as its public face in this election, is hoping to capitalise on the deep distrust of the political elite, felt in particular by the youth.
“I don’t think democracy is working as it should be and Piratar (the Pirate Party) wants transparency, more transparency, and I think that’s something that we need,” 19-year-old student Mathildur Maria told AFP.
The Pirate Party has a diverse platform – fighting against corruption and for freedom of the internet, as well as advocating the decriminalisation of drugs.
It also promises a referendum on resuming EU accession negotiations, moves stalled by eurosceptic parties.
The Achilles heel of the Pirate Party is paradoxically its main strength, as “their core electorate, the youth, are also the least likely to vote,” Bergman warned.
Salma Thorarinsdottir, a 23-year-old student, said however that she planned to vote for them.
“It’s the first time I will vote for a party that didn’t betray all their promises,” she said.
I think they want to bring in real changes to the system.