Pirates aim for gains as Icelanders choose new government

Polls suggest the Pirates are vying with the center-right Independence Party to become the biggest group in Iceland's parliament, the Althingi.

By: AP | Published:October 29, 2016 5:43 pm
Iceland, Icealand elections, Iceland polls, Iceland pirate party, Iceland national elections Pirate Party leaflets are placed on a table during an advertising event ahead of upcoming Iceland Parliamentary Elections in a shopping mall in Reykjavik, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. According to polls the Piratar (Pirate) Party, an anti-authoritarian band of buccaneers that wants to shift power from government to people, is one of the front-runners in the Oct. 29, election triggered by financial scandal in a country still recovering from economic catastrophe. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Icelanders are voting Saturday in a national election, with the anti-authoritarian Pirate Party hoping to unseat the center-right government amid public discontent at traditional elites. The Pirate Party, founded four years ago by an assortment of hackers, political activists and Internet freedom advocates, has made big gains among Icelanders fed up with established parties after years of financial crisis and scandal.

Polls suggest the Pirates are vying with the center-right Independence Party to become the biggest group in Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi. Pirates currently hold just three of the 63 seats. The election was called after Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned in April amid protests over his offshore holdings, revealed in the Panama Papers leak.

The tax-avoidance scandal outraged many Icelanders, who suffered years of economic upheaval after the country’s banks collapsed during the 2008 global financial crisis. Paul Fontaine, news editor of newsmagazine Reykjavik Grapevine, said the 2008 crisis and the wave of popular protest that followed “broke the mold” of Icelandic politics.

“Icelanders, like many Europeans and North Americans, have grown pretty weary of establishment politics, whether they’re on the left or the right,” he said. “I think that explains a large share of the Pirate Party’s support.”

Individual parties rarely win outright in Iceland’s multiparty system. Saturday’s vote is likely to produce either a center-right coalition involving the Independence and Progressive parties that have governed since 2013, or a left-of-center coalition of the Pirates, the Left Green Movement and others.

Election debate has focused on the economy, health care policy and voters’ desire for political reform.

The Pirates promise to introduce direct democracy, subject government to more scrutiny and place the country’s natural resources under public ownership.

The party also seeks tough rules to protect individuals from online intrusion. The most senior Pirate lawmaker, Birgitta Jonsdottir, is a former ally of WikiLeaks who has called on Iceland to offer citizenship to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Opponents claim the inexperienced Pirates could scare off investors and destabilize an economy that is now recovering, with low unemployment and high growth.

Polls opened at 9 a.m. (0900GMT) across the sparsely populated island nation, with about 245,000 Icelanders eligible to vote. Voting ends at 10 p.m. (2200GMT), and partial results are due early Sunday.