Ice­land’s ‘Pi­rates’ eye­ing power af­ter Panama Pa­pers scan­dal

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ice­landers voted yes­ter­day in a snap election that could see the anti­estab­lish­ment Pi­rate Party form the next gov­ern­ment in the wake of the Panama Pa­pers tax-dodg­ing scan­dal and lin­ger­ing anger over the 2008 fi­nan­cial melt­down. Vot­ers are ex­pected to pun­ish the in­cum­bent coali­tion af­ter the Panama Pa­pers re­vealed a global tax eva­sion scan­dal that en­snared sev­eral se­nior politi­cians and forced for­mer prime min­is­ter Sig­mundur David Gunnlaugs­son to re­sign.

Al­though the cur­rent gov­ern­ment of the con­ser­va­tive In­de­pen­dence Party and the cen­trist Pro­gres­sive Party sur­vived the scan­dal, it promised a snap election six months be­fore the end of its term in spring 2017. Prime Min­is­ter Sig­ur­dur Ingi Jo­hanns­son, who is also the chair­man of the Pro­gres­sive Party, was one of the fist peo­ple to vote when the polling sta­tion opened in the small Ice­landic vil­lage of Fludir. “I’m op­ti­mistic. We have found for the last days that a lot of peo­ple are com­ing to us,” Jo­hanns­son told AFP. But three sep­a­rate polls re­leased a day be­fore the vote showed that the Pi­rate Party, founded in 2012 by ac­tivists, an­ar­chists and for­mer hack­ers, could win up to 21 per­cent of the vote and the Left-Green move­ment up to 16.8 per­cent.

Each of the polls, con­ducted by the Univer­sity of Ice­land, re­search com­pany MMR and Gallup, in­di­cate the in­cum­bent con­ser­va­tive coali­tion gov­ern­ment would most likely be voted out. “We’re los­ing sup­port (be­cause of the) big anti-es­tab­lish­ment (feel­ing),” In­de­pen­dence Party MP Bir­gir Ar­manns­son said.

Fight against cor­rup­tion

Fi­nal election re­sults will be re­leased shortly af­ter polling sta­tions close, but be­cause no party is ex­pected to win a ma­jor­ity, Ice­land’s fate will only be known af­ter coali­tion negotiations. The lat­est wave of a global move­ment against es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics, seen in the US with one­time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bernie San­ders, the Five Star Move­ment in Italy, and the up­start Pode­mos party in Spain, the Pi­rate Party could be­come the par­lia­ment’s sec­ond largest group. “I’m look­ing for some changes. The sys­tem... is not all bad,” said Helgi Mar Gun­nars­son, a 54-year-old de­signer, adding that de­ci­sion-mak­ing should be more trans­par­ent. The peo­ple of Ice­land should be “more in­volved”, he told AFP. The Pi­rates, who cam­paign for trans­parency and the fight against cor­rup­tion, could form the na­tion’s sec­ond cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment since Ice­land’s in­de­pen­dence from Den­mark in 1944. The So­cial Democrats and Greens ruled in a coali­tion be­tween 2009-2013.

The Pi­rate Party reached a pre-election agree­ment with three other left­ist and cen­trist op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing the LeftGreens, the So­cial Democrats and the Bright Fu­ture Move­ment, to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment. “We think that these par­ties can co­op­er­ate very well ... I think it will be a very fea­si­ble gov­ern­men­tal choice,” Katrin Jakob­s­dot­tir, leader of the LeftGreen move­ment told AFP.

‘I want change’

Ice­land, a vol­canic is­land with a pop­u­la­tion of 332,000, has re­turned to pros­per­ity since its 2008 fi­nan­cial melt­down. Gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) growth is ex­pected to be above four per­cent this year thanks to tourism rev­enues and a re­cov­er­ing fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Still, young peo­ple do not trust the na­tion’s tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The cri­sis eight years ago saw Ice­land’s three big­gest banks and its over­sized fi­nan­cial sec­tor col­lapse, while the coun­try was forced to seek a bailout from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund. A string of bankers were jailed, the failed banks were tem­po­rar­ily na­tion­al­ized and then sold, and for­eign in­vestors had to ac­cept write-downs on their debt hold­ings. Ola­fur Har­dar­son, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Ice­land, at­trib­uted the Pi­rates’ rise in pop­u­lar­ity to vot­ers’ anger at the 2008 melt­down.

“They have man­aged to fo­cus on the anti-pol­i­tics and anti-es­tab­lish­ment feel­ings of a lot of vot­ers (who) have been frus­trated in Ice­land since the bank crash,” Har­dar­son told AFP. But sev­eral months ago, the Pi­rates had al­most twice the sup­port the lat­est polls have shown, ac­cord­ing to Ice­landic news­pa­per Morgund­bla­did. The fall in pop­u­lar­ity may have been caused by in­ter­nal dis­putes within the party, the pa­per added. “The Pi­rates are in fact a rather loose al­liance of peo­ple who are mainly united in their op­po­si­tion to tra­di­tional pol­i­tics and the sys­tem,” the news­pa­per said. Still, Ei­nar Han­nes­son, 42, said he would be vot­ing for the Pi­rates be­cause they of­fered change. “I want change. I don’t like ev­ery­thing that the Pi­rates are propos­ing, but if we want change, it’s the best party,” he said. — AFP

REYK­JAVIK: Bir­gitta Jons­dot­tir of the Pi­rate Party (Pi­rater) casts her vote at a polling sta­tion. — AP

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