Alþingishúsið, The Parliament House, is a hulking grey stone building that sits on the edge of the sleepy Austurvöllur square in downtown Reykjavík. It’s the seat of Iceland’s Alþingi, an institution that was famously inaugurated in the year 930 by a coalition of chieftains who, in essence, founded the world’s first parliament, and began governing over what many claim to be the world’s oldest functioning democracy. One or two things have changed in Icelandic politics during the intervening millennium. For example, people no longer gather annually around Lögberg, the Law Rock, at Þingvellir national park, to hear the new laws of the land being read out. Blasphemy is now legal (thank fucking god). And you can’t kill Basque sailors on sight in the Westfjords these days. After more than a thousand years, though, democracy remains quite popular with the Icelanders, with around 80% of Icelanders voting in general elections.
Now, the Alþingi might be heading for another big moment in political history. This summer, Píratapartýið (The Pirate Party)—a small, radically forward-thinking, activism-based political organisation—stormed from being a marginal presence with three sitting MPs (out of 63), to being the front-runner in the national opinion polls. Amongst many reformist policies, their agenda includes an eye-catching reboot of democracy itself, via increased voter participation that allows the people to guide parliament on key issues via e-democracy, direct influence on policymaking, and referendums.
The Pirate Party is an international organisation that began in Sweden, and first made their name championing copyright reform and freedom of information. But the Icelandic group took an ingenious next step when they extrapolated their political philosophy into a framework they call the Core Policy. These guidelines were employed to create the Pirate Platform—a wide-ranging manifesto that covers everything from fishing quotas and healthcare to internet porn and data protection (both the Core Policy and the Pirate Platform can be found on their website).
Their message has clearly resonated with the public, with the impressive poll numbers holding steady since March. At the last count, the Pirates had 34.5% of the vote, making them de-facto favourites to lead Iceland’s next government. Two years is, of course, a long time in politics. But should this current swell in popularity hold until the 2017 parliamentary election, the Pirates will be tasked with governing Iceland. And they’ll be aiming to make those thick stone walls a lot more transparent.