The radical, grassroots-led Pirate Party may win Iceland’s elections

Paul Hockenos reports:  Though she’s grown out the blue-dyed coiffure, Birgitta Jónsdóttir still brightens up the anodyne halls of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament in Reykjavík, the country’s capital. In stockinged feet, a white-cotton hippie skirt, and a dark-blue embroidered waistcoat, the 49-year-old Jónsdóttir refuses to fit the classic mold of politician, even though she’s occupied a parliamentary seat for seven years, since 2012 as the front person of the Pirate Party. Jónsdóttir, the former WikiLeaks spokesperson and a published lyricist, calls herself a “poetician,” since verse is her true calling, she says, not the daily grind of politics. Yet if Iceland’s national elections were held today and not on October 29, the Pirates could head up a new government on this rugged island of 330,000 souls — possibly with Jónsdóttir as prime minister.

Iceland’s political status quo — a Nordic-style parliamentary democracy, dominated for decades by pro-NATO conservatives — was shattered when the country went bust in the 2008 financial crisis, pitching Iceland into its deepest crisis since full independence and the republic were declared in 1944. This year, Iceland was rocked again when the Panama Papers leak exposed corruption among top politicos, including the prime minister, who resigned under fire. “People here are angry and frustrated,” says Karl Blöndal, deputy editor of the center-right Morgunbladid. “In the minds of many voters, the Pirates are the only untainted party, and with them Birgitta carries authority. She’s been the face of the opposition since the crash.”

Although the Pirates began surging in polls more than a year ago, peaking at 43 percent in April, Jónsdóttir has been coy about whether she’d take the country’s highest post if elections go in the party’s favor and supporters insist on her as prime minister. (Iceland’s Pirates have slipped considerably in surveys since early this year; currently, they’re neck and neck with the ruling Independence Party.) The object of her desire, she says, is the Althing’s presidency, an office from which she could reinvest power in the legislature — one means of bringing politics nearer to the people, a cause close to Pirate hearts. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Outsiders may regard the idea of a government run by Pirates as a joke. But “the voters think a joke is better than what we have now,” said Benedikt Jóhannesson, leader of another insurgent party that is even younger than the Pirates and has also earned substantial support.

Jóhannesson hastens to add that he doesn’t see the Pirates as a joke. His buttoned-down party is made up of technocrats, academics and business executives, a far cry from the punk-rock, hacker spirit of the Pirates.

But the two may be in coalition talks after the election if, as expected, no party comes anywhere near the majority needed to govern. He may not agree with the Pirates on many issues, he said, but at least they share a belief in the need for fundamental change.

“Some of our parties have been around for 100 years,” said Jóhannesson, fresh off a 10-hour drive back from a campaign swing through the remote Icelandic countryside. “But the systems that worked in, say, the 1960s don’t necessarily work for the 2010s.”

Not everyone is so gung-ho about calls for radical change.

The latest opinion polls show the Pirates jostling for first place with the Independence Party. The center-right party is synonymous with Iceland’s political establishment, having governed the country for much of its modern history. But it was badly tarnished by its stewardship of the bubble economy in the lead-up to the 2008 crash. [Continue reading…]

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