Iceland’s incumbent Independence party was in pole position to try to form a new government after voters chose continuity in Saturday’s elections and support for the anti-establishment Pirate party, while sharply up, fell below early expectations. The Pirates, founded four years ago by a group of activists, anarchists and former hackers, tripled their share of the vote to 14.5%, and together with an alliance of three left-of-centre parties won a total of 27 seats – five short of a majority in the country’s 63-seat parliament. The centre-right Independence party, however, won almost 30% of the vote and a total of 29 seats with its coalition partner of the past three years, the Progressive party, which was badly hit by this year’s Panama papers scandal and lost more than half its MPs. In a campaign whose early stages were dominated by public anger at Iceland’s traditional elites and a strong desire for political change, the Independence party promised to lower taxes and keep Iceland’s economic recovery on track.
“I cannot deny that … it would be natural that we are a leading party in the next government,” said the party’s leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, one of its 21 MPs. “We are gaining new seats in parliament, so we are very happy.”
The final shape of the government is far from clear, with multiple permutations possible, much horse-trading ahead and disagreement even on which party should be the first to attempt to form a new government. Benediktsson said he expected President Gudni Johannesson to hand his party the mandate to begin negotiations, since it was the largest. He added that he would prefer to form a three-party coalition, but declined to say with whom.
But the Pirates, too, said they would be looking to build a five-party coalition, including the newly established, liberal and pro-European Viðreisn (Regeneration) party, whose seven MPs could well prove the kingmakers in Iceland’s new administration.