Iceland holds a general election Saturday, and the results could be historic. Just three years after the anti-establishment Pirate Party formed here, it could become the largest political group in the country and lead the creation of the next government.
A poll by the University of Iceland last week put the Pirate Party in first place in the general election, with 22.6 percent of the vote, just ahead of the Independence Party, which is part of a coalition government with the Progressive Party.
The Pirate Party has said it will not go into government with either of the ruling parties but could form a broad alliance with up to five other parties that would support their aim to fundamentally change the way the country is governed.
Poets and hackers
The Icelandic Pirate Party was founded in 2012 by a diverse group of activists and hackers, led by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a poet, web developer, and former WikiLeaks activist. In 2013 it won over 5 percent of the vote, with three members elected to the national parliament.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January 2015, Iceland’s Pirate Party successfully proposed a repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws. Another proposal, to grant Edward Snowden Icelandic citizenship, didn’t receive enough support. However, Jónsdóttir says if the party forms the next government, then the offer would be extended.
“I have informed him and his lawyer that he should apply for citizenship, because there’s more protections against extradition for Icelandic citizens than there is if you are here with asylum,” Jónsdóttir told the Washington Post.
What is a Pirate Party?
The Pirate Party movement started in Sweden in 2006, with a group focusing on changing draconian copyright laws. The idea garnered support across Europe and has had three members elected to the European Parliament, with Julia Reda from Germany currently the only MEP.
There have been Pirate Parties established in over 40 countries around the world, including a U.S. faction, founded in 2006, with the aim of abolishing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Since its creation, the Pirate Party’s aims have broadened to include human rights, freedom of information, anti-corruption and net neutrality.
“If you want to place it somewhere on the spectrum, I would say it’s a party that has its roots in civilian rights. But we are not like many left parties that want to regulate citizens and create nanny states,” Jónsdóttir recently told the Washington Post.
Why are they popular?
The Icelandic Pirate Party tapped into the widespread frustration and anger at the current government, following the financial collapse of 2008 that saw the country plunge into an economic crisis.
The Pirate Party has consistently topped the polls for the last two years, but its support surged in April when the Panama Papers revealed that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson had investments stashed offshore. The scandal sparked huge protests described as “the largest demonstrations of any kind, in any country, ever (proportionately speaking).”
A global change
The Icelandic Pirate Party is leading an anti-establishment movement that’s taking hold in countries across Europe and, as Jónsdóttir herself points out, in the U.S., exemplified by Bernie Sanders’ popularity during the Democratic primaries.
In Europe we have already seen like-minded parties — Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the U.K. — rise to prominence.