Iceland’s Pirate Party is drawing closer to the summit of power, as scandals sparked by the release of the Panama Papers have forced the resignations of the prime minister and forced a Panama Papered president to call elections for 29 October.
The Pirate Party, founded on a platform of digital privacy rights, has been the big winner, as Icelanders show rising discontent with traditional parties.
From the Guardian:
The Pirate party, whose platform includes direct democracy, greater government transparency, a new national constitution and asylum for US whistleblower Edward Snowden, will field candidates in every constituency and has been at or near the top of every opinion poll for over a year.
“It’s gradually dawning on us, what’s happening,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir, leader of the Pirates’ parliamentary group, told the Guardian. “It’s strange and very exciting. But we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist.”
The election, likely to be held on 29 October, follows the resignation of Iceland’s former prime minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, who became the first major victim of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he had millions of pounds of family money offshore.
The party’s popularity rises with scandals
A succession of scandals involving government leaders has spurred the rise of a party premised on transparency and participatory democracy.
The Iceland Monitor has been tracking the numbers:
With just three MPs in Iceland’s current parliament, support for the Pirate party in Iceland rocketed from 13% to 30% in the space of nine weeks in February-April 2015.
They peaked at 38.6% in February this year, and have been Iceland’s most popular political party for an almost unbroken period of seventeen months (all figures: MMR).
People who have been a member of the Pirate Party for at least thirty days are eligible to vote in elections and over 100 potential candidates have come forward for the constituencies of Greater Reykjavik and South Iceland.
According to the last MMR opinion poll, the Pirates could get somewhere in the region of 18-20 MPs in the next election – compared to just three currently – and be in a commanding position to try and form a government.
Here’s a look at the latest numbers in graphic form:
The party’s leader says they’re ready for power
RT covers self-described poetician and the party’s leading figure and founder, Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], a former Wikileaks activist who has been a leading European advocate of privacy rights and a passionate advocate for Chelsea Manning:
Jonsdottir, a former member of the WikiLeaks team, says the Pirate Party, founded four years ago, is ready to form a government with any coalition partner that supports its agenda to bring about a “fundamental system change.”
“I look at us and I think, we are equipped to do this,” she told the Guardian.
“Actually, the fact we haven’t done it before and that we won’t have any old-school people telling us how, means we’ll do it more carefully. We will be doing things very differently.
“…we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear, but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist,” she added.
Icelanders’ distrust of politicians reached a boiling point when the Panama Papers revealed that then-Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had once owned an offshore company (now controlled by his wife) that held debt from failed Icelandic banks. Thousands of people, outraged by their PM’s alleged offshore accounts, took to the streets of Iceland’s capital in what appeared to be the largest protest in the country’s history. The scandal prompted Gunnlaugsson to resign in early April, with early general elections likely to be held in October.
More after the jump. . .
The party plans to begin with caution
The thought of a radical party often stirs fears among traditionalists, so the Pirates are working assiduously to quell anxieties.
The party has in the past called for separating banks to separate their commercial and investment arms, and they vow to offer asylum to Edward Snowden.
A party activist outlined to Bloomberg their plans for the immediate aftermath of a victorious election:
Asta Gudrun Helgadottir, a Pirate Party member and observer at parliament’s Budget Committee, said that it’s hard to say what kind of government her group could lead or what coalition it could form, whether it be with the Social Democrats or the Left Green Party.
“I highly doubt that we’d take any drastic decisions without having had the opportunity to get a clear picture of everything,” she said. “We’re not about to abandon plans to repay public debts.”
One thing she will seek to do is to open up the books at the Finance Ministry so that more people can have a say in fiscal policy management.
“For us it’s a matter of making all data available to the public,” she said. “We want all calculations related to the budget to become publicly available in a way that allows people to extract data from them and work with the information and present it in different ways, such as in Excel.”
Taking a nontraditional approach to getting out the vote
The Reykjavik Grapevine covers one of their most unusual proposals aimed at attracting youth to the polls:
The Pirate Party is looking into the idea of setting up “election Pokéstops” to attract more young people to take part in the vote.
Kjarninn reports that in the most recent election – the municipal elections of 2014 – voter turn-out for those aged 18 to 29 was only at about 50%. To help improve this situation, Birgitta Jónsdóttir and other Pirates are currently looking into an unconventional way to get young people to the polls: namely, by setting up Pokéstops at polling places.
To this end, Birgitta is hoping that the company Unity Technologies could take part in the project. The company, which amongst other things takes part in designing the Pokémon Go environment in Iceland, is partially owned by Icelander Davíð Helgason.
“But if that doesn’t happen, then it would be great to get all parties to come together and pay for this and lure young people to polling places,” Birgitta told reporters. “There could be Pokéstops in the polling place, and I think it would be a clever way to get young people to take part in their democracy.”