Iceland looked likely to steer away from a Pirate takeover Sunday, as voters favored the incumbent Independence Party over the upstart band of buccaneers advocating direct democracy and Internet freedom. With roughly half of the votes counted from Saturday’s election, the Independence Party had about 30 percent of the ballots and the Pirate Party about 14 percent, putting them in third place behind the Left-Green movement. It’s a worse result for the Pirates than some polls suggested, and a better performance than predicted for the Independents, who have governed in coalition since 2013. Coalition governments are the norm in Iceland’s multiparty system. It was not immediately clear whether the Independents would be able to assemble a coalition with other centrist and right-wing parties — or whether the Pirates and other opposition forces would get the numbers to govern.
Initial counting after polls closed in Iceland’s election put neither the ruling Independence party’s centre-right coalition nor the Pirate party’s leftist alliance in a position to secure outright victory. With roughly one-third of votes counted, support for the mainstream centre-right coalition – particularly Independence – stood at more than 40%, translating to 27 MPs in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament. The opposition alliance had around 43%, giving 29 MPs. That could leave the newly-established Viðreisn – meaning Regeneration – party in the role of kingmaker. Its share of the vote sat at around 11% in early counting. Its liberal, pro-European stance has proved popular among conservative voters seeking a change from the old parties. “We want to improve things in Iceland,” the party leader, Benedikt Johannesson, said as he cast his ballot. “We are a free trade party, a pro-western party, an open society party.” Polls published on Friday before the election showed the governing coalition of the Independence and Progressive parties on about 37% of the vote, while support for opposition parties led by the Pirates – founded barely four years ago by a group of activists, anarchists and former hackers – stood at 47%.
A party that favours direct democracy, complete government transparency, decriminalising drugs and offering asylum to Edward Snowden could form the next government in Iceland after the country goes to the polls on Saturday. Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, Iceland’s Pirate party looks on course to either win or finish a close second. The radical party, founded by activists and hackers four years ago as part of an international anti-copyright movement, captured 5% of the vote in 2013 elections, winning three seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament, the Althingi. This time around, analysts say it could win between 18 and 20 seats. This would put it in pole position to form a government at the head of a broad progressive alliance of up to five parties currently in opposition.
Investors drawn to Iceland’s high yields following the partial dismantling of capital controls are facing parliamentary elections that could produce a toxic mix of political turmoil and radicalism. Klaus Spoeri, a fund manager at Frankfurt-Trust, says that while he recently bought more Icelandic bonds because of their attractive yields of more than 5 percent, he’s now holding off. “We’re quite confident about Iceland and the turnaround,” Spoeri said. But if Saturday’s elections should “go wrong, we’ll liquidate the position.” Despite an impressive turnaround in the economy, latest surveys suggest the ruling conservative coalition of the Independence and Progressive parties stands little chance of surviving the election. An untested alliance of opposition parties has set its sights on the leverages of power. The alliance is spearheaded by the Pirate Party, a direct-democracy movement that’s been leading the polls by riding a global wave of resentment toward the establishment.
Iceland’s national elections take place on Saturday, and at present, a radical fringe party could be heading for the win. One in five Icelanders favor the Pirate Party, according to an online opinion poll run by the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Iceland, the Iceland Monitor reports. The results of the poll put the Pirates in the lead with 22.6%, ahead of the incumbent center-right Independence party by one and a half points. From its beginnings in the radical margins four years ago, to its position at the center point — and counterpoint — of mainstream Icelandic politics today, the rise of Iceland’s Pirate Party has been short and sharp.
Icelanders are casting apprehensive looks at two volcanoes this fall – a real one on the southern coast named Katla, and a metaphorical one also known as Althing or parliament in the capital – each of which has been rumbling ominously. The difference is that while Icelanders are unsure if and when Katla will blow, they know the exact date, Oct. 29, when the latter will erupt. That is the date of the next election for the 63-seat parliament. Although the election itself promises to be an orderly affair, the outcome does not, especially if the insurgent Pirate party, which is channeling the imminent explosion, has its way. For while Pirate parties are not unusual – such political groups started appearing in 2005, focused on digital rights and Internet-reliant democracy, and now exist in countries around the world – this once conservative Nordic nation is set to be the first to vote such a party into power. The Icelandic Pirate Party looks to garner just under a quarter of the vote, according to the latest Gallup poll, which would make them one of the two largest parties in the new parliament.
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.
In 2007, Halldór Auðar Svansson, 27, was working as a programmer in one of the main Icelandic banks, Kaupthing Bank. As a young professional, he was seduced by Kaupthing’s stated ambition to become one of the world’s top ten banks. Seven years later, Kaupthing Bank has collapsed and Svansson is the first Pirate to sit in a majority coalition, in the Icelandic capital city Reykjavik. I met him a few weeks after he took office. Among the consequences of the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis, two were particularly instrumental in Halldor’s decision to get involved in politics. The first one started with a joke. In 2010, the Best Party (a “joke party”) and its self-declared “anarcho-surrealist” leader, Jón Gnarr, won the Reykjavik municipality, a key position in the country’s political life. For Svansson, “2008 movements did actually change the way politics was done. The Best Party was a direct response to how people were disillusioned with the political system. It was a ‘parodic rebellion’, which turned out to be probably the best thing that could have happened to Reykjavik at that point.”
The European parliament could become a squabbling ground for “loonies and lobbyists”, observers warned after a German court on Wednesday ruled against a voting threshold at European elections. The president of the federal court, Andreas Vosskuhle, ruled on Wednesday that the 3% entry hurdle violated the constitution and had stopped parties from getting a fair hearing. The ruling will come into effect immediately and apply to the European elections in May, where Germany will elect 96 MEPs for the next parliamentary term – the highest number of seats of all member states. Sixteen out of 29 EU countries, including Britain, have no threshold quotas for European elections, but the issue is an unusually politically loaded one in Germany: a 5% hurdle was introduced for the national parliament in 1949 with a view to making the raucous parliamentary squabbles of the Weimar Republic a thing of the past.
A myriad small German parties, including the neo-Nazi NPD, could enter the European Parliament following a ruling by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday (26 February) to abolish the minimum threshold for the vote. The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe says the threshold discriminates against small parties. The verdict, approved with 5 out of the 8 votes in the judging panel, says fringe parties are being discriminated against with the current three-percent threshold. The Karlsruhe-based court already in 2011 ruled that a five-percent threshold in place for the 2009 EU elections was unconstitutional. Following that ruling, Germany’s parliament lowered the threshold to three percent, arguing that smaller parties could hamper the work of the European Parliament. The law was challenged again – this time by a coalition of 19 fringe parties, including the neo-Nazi NPD and the German Pirate Party. The judges agreed with the plaintiffs.
Not content with serving as a catalyst for the global financial crisis, Iceland has elected three members of the Pirate Party to its national Parliament. Iceland’s Alþingi (“Althing” in English) is a single-chambered parliament that has met since the tenth century and says it is the world’s oldest such legislature. The nation is divided into six constituencies, each of which elects nine representatives. Constituencies with larger populations also have one or two “levelling seats” to ensure the value of a vote remains constant across the nation. Proportional representation is used to elect candidates.