We Want You In Charge: Iceland's Pirates Now Largest Political Party

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Pirate members in Iceland's parliament. From left Jón Þór Ólafsson, Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson and Birgitta Jónsdóttir. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

For a break from the current Drumpfian gutter into which our national discourse has fallen, consider Iceland, the country that supported Wikileaks, welcomed refugees when its country wouldn't, boasts a warm fuzzy police Instagram and alone chose to jail corrupt bankers, with 26 sentenced to 74 years in prison. Now a new survey has found that the activism-based Pirate Party - which touts civil rights, collective effort, transparency, net neutrality and "the wisdom of the masses" - has grown into by far that country's most popular political party. As proof of their newfound popularity, they're attracting the usual derisive press from the powers that be; a recent Bloomberg story calls them "Iceland's next scare."

The Pirates now have 38% support from Icelandic voters, up dramatically from the 5% they started with a few years ago. Their support vastly outweighs both the conservative Independence Party's 27.6% and the center-right, increasingly-distrusted Progressive Party's 12.8%, about half what it had when it became ruler of the current coalition. The new numbers mean that, if elections were held today, the Pirates' current three seats would soar to 26 seats, no government could be formed without them, and they would dominate whatever coalition resulted. 

Modeled after the first Pirate Party founded in Sweden in 2006, the Icelandic branch was created in 2012 and quickly gained three seats in Parliamentary elections a few months later. Since then, they have continued to grow, espousing a form of direct democracy reflected in the first priority proclaimed in its platform: "We want you in charge." Among the issues they advocate for are increased and online voter participation, net neutrality and copyright reform, further breaking up big banks, greater health care access, a 35-hour work week and ecologically sound fishing quotas.

They also reject fear-mongering voices who see every Syrian refugee as a potential bomb-making terrorist seeking revenge -  an unlikely scenario, some Pirate voters note, given the number of Icelandic invasions of other countries (zero) and the slim selection at local hardware stores. True to the Pirates' focus on Internet freedoms, former Wikileaks volunteer and Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir says she views the Party's politics from the hopeful perspective of a hacker. “I don’t want to learn what isn’t possible, because as soon as I know about limitations, I start to respect them," she says. "It’s better to pretend you don’t know the limitations, so you can break them.”

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