After the Panama Papers revelations, Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson became embroiled in a scandal that quickly led to him stepping down. The massive leak, it seems, has claimed its first victim.
At the same time, the Icelandic Pirate Party (Píratar) has seen surging popularity, with a current poll suggesting the party would receive 43% of the vote if an election were held now. But what do they stand for, and how did they become so popular?
The Swedish connection
The rise of Píratar has developed alongside pirate parties in other nations. In 2006, the Swedish Pirate Party was established, unleashing similar movements across the globe.
Initially, the Swedish Pirate Party was concerned with copyright law reform. Founded by technologist Rick Falkvinge, the primary goals of the party were to ensure a society based on the free exchange of information and ideas. File-sharing site The Pirate Bay was raided in May 2006 – in what was seen by many as a politically motivated attack.
Subsequent media coverage of the raid led to a rise in popularity of the Swedish Pirate Party, and membership surged.
A month later, the United States Pirate Party was founded. The theme of copyright reform continued, and the party focused on repeal of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), an American law that deals with online copyright infringement.
Then, in 2013, the Icelandic Pirate Party, won 5.1% of the vote in parliament.
It was a small victory – gaining just 0.1% over the threshold needed for representation – but it showed that Icelanders were growing sick of established politics. The Great Recession had already swept the globe, and Iceland was hit particularly hard.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a founding member of the Icelandic Pirate Party, and is the current parliamentary chair. In an article for Newsweek, Jónsdóttir criticised the former Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson for his Panama connections – and called out his hypocrisy. During the bailouts, Gunnlaugsson condemned the Icelandic banks for reckless behaviour, whilst at the same time being linked to their offshore dealings. Jónsdóttir lamented the damages to Iceland’s reputation abroad.
While the pirate movement started as a copyright and freedom of information platform, the recent mistrust of mainstream politics across the globe have allowed pirate parties to tap into this frustration and expand their platforms. The Icelandic Pirate Party is no exception.
According to their official site, the Icelandic Pirate Party wants more direct democracy. They say that with advances in technology, citizens can (and should) be more involved in decision making at all levels, rather than just at fixed 4-year intervals.
In keeping with freedom of information and ideas spirit, the party also wants much more transparency in decisions. They argue that the lack of openness in politics allowed Gunnlaugsson to engage in ethically questionable banking.
Icelandic Pirate Party platforms
The Icelandic Pirate Party also promises better public services for Icelandic citizens. Education is especially important, with a focus on technology and the internet improving access to services and quality.
Economically, the Icelandic Pirate Party has emphasised that most Icelandic businesses are small, yet do not receive enough support in comparison to larger companies (especially banks).
On the European Union, takes the position that the people should decide rather than political parties. Iceland is currently a member of the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association, giving the country access to the internal market. Iceland also participates in the Schengen Area, unique for an island (Ireland and the UK do not). This guarantees the free movement of people to other countries in the Schengen Area. The country had previously been on a fast-track to full EU membership, but in 2013 walked out of talks.
The Icelandic Pirate party is unique among pirate parties globally in that it currently commands a high level of support among the Icelandic electorate. Far from the single-issue parties of the last decade, the party has a plan for the economy, public services, and governance. Icelanders are clearly fed up with their mainstream political parties, so the prospect of pirates ruling Iceland might not be too far off.