The Robin Hood of Power: Iceland's Pirate Party On Track To Win Upcoming Election

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Post-Panama Papers protests. Photo by Stigtryggur Johannsson/ Reuters

If you're sick of our electoral debacle, invigorating news from Iceland: The radical Pirate Party, founded by a group of activists, anarchists and hackers, is improbably poised to win this weekend's election with about a quarter of Icelanders' support, or more than any other party. Riding a wave of public anger at corrupt business as usual in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers money-laundering scandal - which caused massive protests and Pirate poll numbers to hit 43% - the Pirates have vowed to reject working with the two center-right establishment parties and instead form a broad coalition with up to five smaller progressive parties, like the Left-Greens and Social Democratic Alliance.

 Since the Pirate movement was founded 10 years ago in Sweden, Iceland has been the only country where the party has been elected; it currently holds three seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament. In the upcoming Oct. 29 election, analysts say they could win up to 20 seats, enough to head up a coalition government that would focus on the Pirates' core issues - direct democracy, freedom of expression, civil rights, net neutrality, and transparency, all set out in a popular, crowdsourced draft of a new national Constitution that the current government has failed to act on. They also seek to re-nationalize the country's natural resource industries, create new rules for civic governance, and issue a passport to Edward Snowden.

Many Icelanders see the rise of the Pirates as a logical result of the growing corruption of and disenchantment with mainstream political parties that, notes a Pirate statement, "cheat their voters again and again.” Having successfully prosecuted and jailed several bankers who helped create the crash, says one political history professor, “The distrust that had long been germinating has now exploded. The Pirates are riding on that wave.”


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If in fact they win the election, the Pirates insist they will rule in their usual horizontal, egalitarian way and their leader Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a feminist poet, artist and former employee of WikiLeaks, would likely not become prime minister. Says Ásta Guthrún Helgadóttir, one of their Parliament members, “We are not here to gain power. We are here to distribute power.” A video they made to promote the adoption of the Constitution crowdsourced four years ago echoes that spirit, from its title - "Can you hear us now?" - to its final message: "We want a government that listens to us."

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